Faithful Seahawks, super priest

Father Tom Belleque, pastor of St. Louise de Marillac Parish in Bellevue, says Mass for the Seahawks before every home game. Photo: Stephen Brashear Father Tom Belleque, pastor of St. Louise de Marillac Parish in Bellevue, says Mass for the Seahawks before every home game. Photo: Stephen Brashear

Bellevue priest ministers to Catholic Seahawks

By Anna Weaver

When the Seattle Seahawks step onto CenturyLink Field, the fervor of the “12th Man” may cause small earthquakes. But for the last 12 years, Father Tom Belleque has been making sure that the team’s Catholic members also have the force of their faith with them on the field.

Father Belleque, the pastor of St. Louise de Marillac Parish in Bellevue, celebrates Mass for Catholic Seahawks players and staff the night before every home game. Those evenings, the team gathers at their hotel for a pep talk, dinner and, for those who choose, the chance to go to Mass or a Protestant service.

“There’s a real strong fraternal bond between the guys who pray together each week,” Father Belleque said. “In that sense it’s like a small Christian community.”

Among the Catholic Seahawks are tight end Luke Willson, general manager John Schneider, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, assistant strength and conditioning coach Jamie Yanchar and tight ends coach Pat McPherson. Father Belleque says he keeps in touch with past team members as well.

Besides saying Mass, Father Belleque has helped Seahawks with baptism preparation for their children, counseled them, recommended parishes when they moved to the area, and been asked to pray for their loved ones, among other ministries. He often gets calls from visiting teams wanting to have Mass while they’re in town, and helps find priests for them.

Father Belleque said he builds a lot of silent prayer time into the Masses he celebrates for the Seahawks, so the team members “can bring in whatever they need to prepare themselves for the next day.”

As for his homilies, Father Belleque said they aren’t “like Knute Rockne and ‘Win one for the Gipper.’” But he often weaves in a theme of “How do we live [our] faith out as an NFL player or a coach? How do we take that into what we do?”

In December, Willson, a rookie from Ontario, asked Father Belleque where he could volunteer on Christmas Day, since he wasn’t going home for Christmas. The priest put him in touch with Rich Shively at Mary, Queen of Peace Parish in Sammamish, which was then hosting Tent City 4.

Willson helped prep for the meal — Shively’s wife sent Willson out to get milk — and talked to Tent City 4’s homeless residents. The player later joked with Father Belleque that there were many “armchair quarterbacks” among the attendees.

Seahawks tight end Luke Willson (second from left) helped at a Christmas Day 2013 meal for Tent City 4 at Mary, Queen of Peace Parish in Sammamish. Pictured from left are: Rich Shively, Willson, Joanne Van Deurzen, Kathi Rowley, David Ernst, Bonnie Witek and Paul Ernst. Photo: Courtesy Kathi Rowley

Father Belleque makes himself available to all the Seahawks, Catholic or not. “I’m very visible because I always make a point to stand in their hallway as they’re coming in and out,” he said of pregame nights at the team hotel.

The priest is almost a good luck charm to wide receiver Ricardo Lockette, who makes sure to shake his hand before every game. “If I’m not outside the door, he finds me,” Father Belleque said, laughing. “It’s kind of like his pregame ritual.”

Father Belleque has long been a Seahawks fan, following the team since its first season in 1976. His dad was an original season ticket holder; now Father Belleque often gets to attend home games when they don’t fall on a Saturday or during the day Sunday when he is busy at St. Louise.

He won’t be in New Jersey for the Super Bowl, but St. Louise parishioners might just catch Father Belleque throwing in an extra prayer to Our Lady of Victory at Masses that weekend.

“I just think the world of the guys,” Father Belleque said. “I really do appreciate them, their deep faith and their desire to celebrate their faith together.”

January 31, 2014

Anna Weaver

Anna Weaver was the multimedia, online and social media editor, and writer for Northwest Catholic from 2013-2018.