Donald "Dee" Rowe, special advisor of athletics at the University of Connecticut, left, shares a moment with UConn’s men’s basketball Coach Jim Calhoun. (Photo by Jack Sheedy)
PLANTSVILLE – For all kinds of reasons, more than 500 people attended the 27th annual Franciscan Sports Banquet June 6 at the Aqua Turf Club. Ideally, they went to support the ministries of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist, including counseling services, home care and hospice care. Some went to bid on silent auction items, take a chance on a raffle, eat a sumptuous meal or give or receive an award.
Still others, like Connecticut Superior Court Judge Charles D. Gill of Litchfield, went with a relative who is awed by the sports celebrities who attend: Judge Gill’s grandson, 8-year-old Jimmy Luce of Wilton.
The Super Bowl-winning New York Giants he shook hands with were offensive linemen Chris Snee and Kevin Boothe, who were there to receive the St. Francis Award for their highly regarded volunteer work off the football field. (Teammate David Diehl, another awardee, was unable to attend.) Jimmy also got to see the players’ coach, Kevin Gilbride, who guided the team to two Super Bowl championships, in 2008 and 2012.
As always, UConn’s men’s basketball coach Jim Calhoun was on hand to present the Jim Calhoun Community Service Award, this year to Donald "Dee" Rowe, former men’s basketball coach at UConn and now special advisor for athletics at UConn.
Mother General Shaun Vergauwen, co-founder of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist and the Franciscan Life Center’s first executive director, said she thinks sports celebrities love to be involved with the Franciscans because "it’s a religious community that’s trying to reach out. I think that means a lot to them. And I think they like to be bigger than just the sports world. They like to be included in a lot of good things and a lot of giving. They’re all very generous people."
Sister Suzanne Gross, administrator for Franciscan Home Care and Hospice Care in Meriden, told the Transcript that the banquet tradition has been made possible through a relationship the Franciscan Sisters have had with the New York Giants over the years.
"And then way back, when Jim Calhoun was really new at UConn, we said, ‘We should invite that new coach,’" she added.
He eventually was honored with the St. Francis Award, which recognizes dedication to Christian values and the promotion of athletics.
Asked why he takes part every year, Coach Calhoun told the Transcript, "Did you take a ride down to the Franciscan Life Center? You don’t have to ask any more questions."
He added, "When I came out here, started coming out here 24 years ago, my second year at UConn, it was like magic. I knew right away that I had found something very special. I grew up Catholic, and this only reaffirms my own religion."
Coach Calhoun has not announced whether he will coach the team next year.
"Well, you know, right now I haven’t made a decision on that," he said. "I’m going to be at UConn. I just haven’t decided whether I’m going to have the whistle or be working right beside the basketball office."
But, he repeated, "I’m going to be at UConn."
Before presenting Mr. Rowe with the Jim Calhoun award, Coach Calhoun said of his longtime friend, "His life’s about people; his life’s about relationships. As a matter of fact, the day I decided to come to UConn, Dee Rowe and I sat in the driveway on the UConn campus, talking two-and-a-half hours about whether I should come or not, and he said, ‘This can be done.’"
Mr. Rowe, who is 83, said, "The mission for me has always been about building lives, and the mission has always been about making those lives better than they ever thought they could be. But it’s always been about faith and family and education and athletics, and it’s never going to stop for me," he said.
Coach Gilbride introduced the St. Francis Award winners, including Mr. Boothe.
In accepting, Mr. Boothe said on behalf of himself and his teammates, "We’re all amazed at the tremendous work that [the Franciscan Sisters] do here, and it’s an honor to be here." Of his New York Giants team, he said, "It’s all about finishing that journey, winning the Super Bowl, but also the journey of getting there and who crossed that line with you."
Pete Carolan, of the Bronx, N.Y., said his attendance at the banquet was a birthday gift. "My daughter and son-in-law told me about the good work that the sisters do, and as a result they asked me if I would like to come, and it’s just been an enjoyable event."
Judge Gill said, "What impresses me most about this gathering is that it is not really an event. It is a gathering of loving Christians who practice what Christ preached 24/7. When I heard the love and tenderness from the mouths of men who play an extremely violent sport yet hold their children gently in their powerful arms, it says it all."