SHOWING THE WAY TO GOD
By David McMahon, Communications Manager, Society of Jesus in Australia
It’s a sunny winter afternoon in Melbourne and I’m concentrating on getting some good portraits of Brother Pat Douglas SJ. The clouds are scudding along quickly in windy conditions, so the light intensity keeps changing. Throughout the photo session for Br Pat and ten other tertians, there is a constant flow of good-natured background chatter. You know – laughter, quips, one-liners. But I’m moving a few degrees to the left and then sidestepping (adroitly, I do believe) to the right with more aplomb than Fred Astaire (I dare you to contradict me), so I’m not paying too much attention to the witticisms and encouragement behind me.
But the chorus has clearly struck a chord with Br Pat, who responds instantly. He momentarily flexes. Big flex. Big grin. And a nanosecond later the flex, like the errant sunshine, has disappeared.
That’s when I remember a key fact. The man from Omaha, Nebraska in America’s Midwest is a powerlifting coach at a Jesuit high school in his home state. So I ask if he’d mind performing one more flex. He nods. Big grin. Big flex. This time I’ve got the picture – literally and metaphorically.
A few days later, in a completely different setting, I ask him if he sees a connection between his faith and his interest in powerlifting.
“Yes, absolutely,” he responds, without volunteering any more discourse. This man would be a good poker player. He’s giving nothing away, and he’s grinning because he knows I’m waiting for more details.
So I ask him for more insight and he obliges.
“I think finding God in all things applies,” he says. “God has given me the gift of strength and I’ve always tried to use it for God’s greater glory. I think being a powerlifter and now a powerlifting coach and a Jesuit helps me meet lifters where they are at. We share the common interest in lifting but it is quite common for kids or other athletes at competitions to want to talk about spiritual matters when they learn I am a Jesuit Brother. As Saint Ignatius says, go in through their door and bring them out your door.”
What sort of competitive form did he have? That’s when Br Pat plays his ace, albeit after being prompted by someone else who’s also part of our conversation.
With quiet modesty, he says: “I hold Nebraska state records in the squat, bench and deadlift. Then in the strict curl I hold the world record for all age groups with a curl of 74.8 kg. That was at the 82.5kg weight class.” He refrains from mentioning that the feat was chronicled in this 2020 Facebook post by the Midwest Jesuits.
But when I ask him about the specifics of how his faith is linked to his powerlifting, he says he’ll send me a link to an article that explains it in detail. The article by Sarah Eulie in The Creightonian, published by Creighton University, a private Jesuit research university in Omaha, carries the headline “Br. Pat Douglas, SJ: Five Spiritual Lessons He’s Learned from Powerlifting”. Her article, republished on the Jesuits Midwest site, lists the lessons as:
- Discernment of spirits. “God made you, so anything that turns you against yourself is against God and is a bad spirit.”
- Learn from other people. Acknowledge others’ successes, evaluate your mistakes, be humble about your accomplishments, and be able to appreciate help and critiques from others.
- The importance of a spotter. “The spotter effect” means a lifter can lift more weight with a spotter (an ally or supporter) present because they feel safer with them and can focus better. Always be prepared to support the people around you.
- People can grow despite failing in weightlifting. This concept can also be a mirror for one’s faith.
- Let your strength come from within. Believe in yourself and never give up.
Br Pat Douglas SJ
During his time in Australia, Br Pat spent time at Saint Ignatius’ College, Riverview, where – among other things – his sporting background was a big factor in his time spent with students. “He did some great work with the college rugby team,” says Fr Eka Tanaya SJ, who was Acting Rector of the College at the time. “The boys were delighted to have access to someone with a background as an elite athlete and who was able to connect so effectively with them.”
There were other Riverview students, too, who found inspiration in his company. After the Year Seven Reflection Day, where the theme was ‘Finding God in all things’, one student said: “Br Pat introduced us to his ‘spotter’ analogy, taken from weightlifting, where you often have a person close by who supports and motivates you. We discussed how it is okay to fail, as long as we always seek to improve. Br Pat explained that everyone has a unique talent, adding in his words, ‘God doesn’t make trash’!”
Br Pat’s address to the Arrupe Academy for Ignatian Leadership was also a highlight for John Gilles, Riverview’s Director of Religious Formation, who wrote in ‘Viewpoint’, the college newsletter: “Br Pat addressed the Arrupe Academy about his experience as a social worker, vocations director, group therapist and a Jesuit, who was able to break open the topic of leadership through the lens of Ignatian Spirituality. He quoted 1 Corinthians 14-20, in which God’s giftedness to each unique individual is made clear. He encouraged participants to reflect on the gifts that they have been given, and challenged them to use these gifts in the service of others and God.
“Br Pat shared a method of putting the Examen at the service of leadership – the importance of slowing down before making decisions, expressing gratitude, focussing on what is going well, and what the whole group might improve on in looking ahead to the future. The group was fortunate to have the opportunity of posing a wide range of questions to Br Pat, and to hear his full and rich answers to these – authentic, challenging and deep. There were allusions to powerlifting, of experience gained from work with neglected children and of how redemption is always possible.”
Watch Br Pat Douglas SJ explaining what he loves about his vocation in the video below: