Perhaps more than any other professional sports team, the Steelers are known for Catholic ownership — “The Righteous Rooneys” — and major contributions to the Church. Steelers’ owner Dan Rooney attends daily Mass with his wife, Patricia, and is known throughout Pittsburgh for humility and generous contributions to Catholic endeavors.
v “If you want a successful life, you have to put yourself in the hands of God,” Rooney said, as his team prepared for Super Bowl XL. “I’m not saying God runs the ball for us, but it’s tremendously helpful to be in relationship with him when striving to achieve.”
Though most NFL teams train during the off-season right outside their corporate headquarters, the Steelers train at the St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pa. Rooney told the Register it’s “inspirational” to work in the presence of Catholic brothers, deacons and priests.
Archabbot Douglas Nowicki of Saint Vincent’s said Rooney inspires most everyone who knows him, because he’s fearless in his faith.
“In our American culture, it’s considered a sign of sophistication to have your religion on Sunday and then neatly separate it from your professional life the rest of the time,” Archabbot Nowicki said. With the Rooneys, he said, there is no split. “It’s that integrity and wholeness that has won them the respect of people in every walk of life.”
But not the respect of everyone, Rooney conceded.
“I’ve had people call us the ‘Righteous Rooneys’ in a condescending way, but I don’t care about that,” Rooney said.
Most in Pittsburgh know Rooney as an ordinary average guy who just happens to own the Steelers. Getting a moment with Rooney is no more difficult than making an appointment with Jesus — in the Eucharist, that is.
“He treats everyone he encounters with tremendous respect, and everyone in Pittsburgh knows that if you want to find Dan Rooney, go to morning Mass,” Archabbot Nowicki said.
Rooney says his lifestyle reflects the way he was brought up, and the way millions have grown up in Pittsburgh: Jesus first, football second. Friends say Rooney simply carries on the legacy started by his father — the late Art Rooney, who founded the Steelers as the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1933.
“Art Rooney Sr., known around town as ‘The Chief,’ would attend the funeral of any priest in the area who died,” recalled Father Ron Lengwin, spokesman for the Diocese of Pittsburgh. “When I was 10 or 11, a friend and I saw him on the street outside of a priest’s funeral. We walked up to him and he just couldn’t have been nicer. He dropped everything and took time to get to know us. The whole Rooney family is that way. That’s why football is almost like a religion in Pittsburgh.”
Former offensive lineman Jim Sweeney grew up in Pittsburgh, and looked up to Art Rooney as a role model. Sweeney served as an altar boy until he was drafted by the New York Jets in 1984 — at age 21. As an altar boy, he often encountered Art Rooney — who attended daily Mass at a variety of parishes throughout town.
“He told me to attend Mass every day,” recalled Sweeney, who played for the Steelers the last four years of his 16-year career. “I’ve taken that advice as best I can.”
Sweeney said Art Rooney had such genuine respect for the children he met at Mass that he remembered their names and the details they shared with him.
“When I was drafted into the NFL by the Jets, Art Rooney sent me a letter wishing me well, and telling me that he had known my grandfather — who had been dead for 35 years,” Sweeney said.
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Bishop Donald Wuerl said the Steelers and the Rooneys have quietly bolstered the morale and financial welfare of the Pittsburgh Diocese for more than 70 years.
“Dan Rooney, though a private man who does nothing to promote himself, is a fixture in the diocese,” Bishop Wuerl said. “The Holy Family Institute, the Cardinal Wright Regional School, Catholic Charities — the list goes on and on. His faith and his values permeate the Pittsburgh Steelers organization which is the real reason why, win or lose, the Steelers are so important to our city and region.” . . .
Dan Rooney says it’s undeniable that religion’s a hit in professional sports, and he hopes the sporting world may be a microcosm for what’s to come in other segments of society.
“You’re talking to me because my team’s in the Super Bowl,” Rooney said. “But I’m telling you that faith and religion are important to everyone, no matter what they’re doing, whether they know that or not. We must be in relationship with the Lord at all times to get the most out of life.”