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Nun better: Sister Lisa Maurer brings balance to St. Scholastica football team

Sister Lisa Maurer (right) talks with St. Scholastica football players during Tuesday's practice in the college's fieldhouse. Maurer is the kicking coach for the Saints. (Photos by Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)1 / 2
Sister Lisa Maurer has become a fixture for the Saints. 2 / 2

St. Scholastica football players enjoyed a snowy practice Wednesday at Malosky Stadium.

There was a playful snowball fight and a couple of players slid across the field on their stomachs like it was a Slip ’N Slide. Off on one side, offensive linemen made snow angels.

“How can you not enjoy this?” St. Scholastica coach Kurt Ramler said.

Few people enjoyed it as much as Sister Lisa Maurer, a Saints assistant who is believed to be the first nun ever to roam the sidelines as a college football coach.

Maurer taught and coached at St. Mary’s in Sleepy Eye, Minn., before answering God’s call to join a convent. She arrived at the St. Scholastica Monastery in September 2007.

“When I felt the call to become a sister, one of the hardest things was the thought that I’d no longer be involved in coaching, as intimately as you are when you’re an actual coach,” Maurer said. “Giving that up was one of the things I had to do when I entered religious life, and I missed it. I missed it terribly.”

Maurer, 44, grew up playing a variety of sports and learned football from her father, Gene, a longtime St. Mary’s junior varsity coach. Lisa Maurer was a catcher on the Southwest Minnesota State softball team before returning home to teach and coach at her alma mater.

Maurer loved it, but the pull of religious life was even stronger. When she arrived at St. Scholastica, it wasn’t long before she was a frequent visitor at Saints sporting events.

“With our campus, everything is connected, so I’d actually go and watch other sports,” Maurer said. “I’d go to the gym and watch basketball or volleyball or whatever was going on. But it just so happened when football started up (in 2008), they practiced right in our backyard, so that’s how I got involved. It was a lot closer just walking up there and watching practice.”

Former St. Scholastica coach Greg Carlson noticed the inquisitive Maurer and welcomed her interest in the program. Carlson eventually invited her to team banquets to lead the Saints in prayer.

Carlson retired in January and Ramler was introduced as the second coach in program history at an on-campus news conference March 31. Afterward, Maurer introduced herself.

Ramler later asked about the friendly sister and was told, “She’s an everything.”

When Ramler started finalizing his coaching staff he realized he didn’t have anybody with experience coaching kickers and punters. Maurer didn’t have any experience, either, but she knew the game and was willing to learn. After receiving the blessing of Sister Lois Eckes, prioress of St. Scholastica Monastery, Maurer joined the Saints as their kicking coach.

“We needed an intelligent, hardworking and great person to be a member of the staff, and Sister Lisa fit the bill,” Ramler said. “Coaching is teaching, and she is a great teacher.”

The Saints found a way to make it work.

When the chapel bells would toll at 5 p.m., summoning the sisters for evening prayer, Maurer would hurry down to prayers before returning to practice when they were over.

“I was curious to see how this would fit into my life,” Maurer said. “Being a sister comes first, and my life of ministry with our Benedictine Health System and my life of prayer. It has to balance, so Coach (Ramler) was like, ‘Whatever you can give me, whenever you can be available, whatever you can do, we’ll take it.’ And that was it.”

Ramler said kickers at the college level are largely autodidactic, meaning they coach themselves, and the Saints have a four-year starter and preseason All-American in senior Mike Theismann.

Theismann, of St. Cloud, said Maurer has largely been in a supportive role this year but is a quick learner, picking up techniques she can use to help future Saints.

“Sister Lisa really helps with people’s attitudes,” Theismann said. “She’s very encouraging and positive and on game days is quite boisterous cheering us on. You can hear her when you’re out on the field. I’ve never had a specific kicking coach there at every home game, so every time I go kick, there is someone there to talk to, to ask me how I’m doing, or if the weather is funny that day, to talk about that.”

While some parents may have had questions, others have asked Sister Lisa to watch over their sons and make sure they attend Mass.

“The guys I know think she’s pretty cool,” Theismann said. “She is pretty funny. She has a good sense of humor. Some people might think of a nun not having a whole lot to say, and she is just going to talk about praying and church. That comes up but not very often. She doesn’t try to force anything on us or anything like that. She’s just a good person.”

Both Carlson and Ramler are big believers in the NCAA Division III experience, where sports are just one part of what makes the person and that everything should be in balance. Having Sister Lisa on the staff is a means to that end.

The Saints’ pregame ritual includes a player-led prayer, but Maurer writes a prayer for the players before every game that she prints out and gives to them at their pregame meal. She led a prayer service at the chapel during preseason camp and again at a campus lecture hall after practice Tuesday night.

Ramler called the experience “mind blowing.”

“I was moved, and I know others were moved, too,” he said. “She talked about being humble in victory, being classy, being a great teammate, being there for others, striving to be the best you can be, in whatever capacity the team needs, and lot of the values of St. Scholastica and the Order (of St. Benedict) and how it might apply to our team. We strive to be a team that all the sisters in the abbey can be proud of. This is one of the best teams I’ve ever been a part of. It’s been like nothing else, and Sister Lisa has kind of been the glue that keeps us all together.”

The Saints sounded like a thundering herd at practice Wednesday, running sprints along the snow-packed turf at Malosky Stadium.

At 5-foot-2, Maurer was easy to spot bundled in her blue Saints jacket, shouting encouragement, giving an occasional fist bump or raising both hands whenever a player scored a touchdown. She is clearly in her element here, working with young people again and helping them see the light.

“You just want to be that presence on the sidelines and in their lives, to let them know there is somebody here for them,” Maurer said. “I’ve been so honored and just touched that I have this opportunity. It’s something that I love and has turned into a real blessing in my life. I am so grateful that I get to live my vocation as a religious sister and have the thrill of coaching. It’s a glorious mixture of ministry.”

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