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Sports coach equally inspired by Wayne Bennett, Vince Lombardi and St Francis Xavier

Catholic sports coach

Craig Gunn: “I love talking about my faith.”

CRAIG Gunn holds rugby league master coaches Wayne Bennett and Jack Gibson, and legendary gridiron coach Vince Lombardi among his heroes – and St Francis Xavier is up there too.

Each of them are inspirations for Craig as a teacher and sports coach and for his life.

For a life that includes dealing with mental illness, St Francis Xavier, along with his Jesuit colleague St Ignatius of Loyola, the Eucharist and constant prayer to the Holy Spirit, are crucial.

Others may not notice the connections between the coaches’ ways and a life of faith, but Craig does.

The Sandgate Catholic has a special interest in the motivational side of coaching and empowering the individual for the good of the team, hence his admiration for Bennett, Gibson and Lombardi.

“It’d be all about … all the stuff that you hear from Wayne Bennett or Jack Gibson or Vince Lombardi – who was a daily Mass-goer – the fact that every person is individual, every athlete, so you’ve got to get to know them,” Craig said.

“So I suppose it sort of fits in with the whole idea of ‘everyone’s equal in the eyes of God’.

“That’s the way I look at it. I get to know the person …”

As for St Francis Xavier, he became one of Craig’s favourites when he was a teacher at St Patrick’s College, Shorncliffe.

“I started Xavier House at St Pat’s so that’s where I really got to fall in love with him,” he said of his time as the first dean of the new house a few years ago. St Ignatius of Loyola, he was a man’s man, and he was just so physically tough, but he sort of put that into his spirituality and he started the Jesuits …, and he then converted this guy called St Francis Xavier, who was an academic, … to then become the greatest missionary since St Paul.”

Craig, who lives with this wife Therese and their two young daughters at Sandgate, left the classroom a couple of years ago for further studies.

He continues to teach Physical Education at Australian Catholic University and Queensland University of Technology while he completes his Masters in Education (Sports Coaching).

He served for a while on the Sandgate Brighton parish’s pastoral council and helped establish the parish’s youth group.

More recently he’s had invitations to do some consultancy for Brisbane North AFL and to give a presentation at a local community forum – not a Church event but a secular one.

As someone with mental health issues this could be daunting, but Craig’s openness to the Holy Spirit and the inspiration of his favourite saints see him through.

He prays for the Holy Spirit to be with him, and is mindful of the sacrifices of the saints.

“The fact that those guys (St Ignatius of Loyola and St Francis Xavier), and all those ones through Europe and all around the world that have just gone through those kinds of things for their faith, that’s just inspirational,” he said.

“Anything I do now, now I think if people ask me – like even with the AFL or whoever, ask me to come out and do some consultancy with them or whatever – I always anchor it to God.

“Even just recently I’ve been asked to speak at (the community forum), and I said, ‘I don’t want any real praise or anything like that, but you’re going to have to accept that I’m going to talk a lot about being a Catholic.’”

“Providing I’m doing that, and I’m not really a person who likes the spotlight whatsoever, but if it’s for God, mate, I’ll do it.

“That’s where I’m stepping out of my comfort zone because I do suffer from anxiety and other things but if he’s giving me the strength …”

Craig asked the businessman who was running the forum if he was sure he wanted him to be involved, and he received a welcome “pat on the back”.

“He said, ‘My short dealings with you over the last year-and-a-half have been transformative’,” Craig said.

“And I said to him, ‘Mate, in Greek that’s called ‘metanoia’. You’ve had a change of heart.’ Because I’ve tried to encourage him to go out and feed the homeless and stuff like that.

“(The community forum) is a secular thing but I made it very clear to him, ‘Yes, I will do it, but don’t think that I won’t be bring this thing (his crucifix) out.’ I do it for a reason.”

The fact that he was moving outside Church circles with his faith was not lost on Craig.

“Isn’t that what Pope Francis wants?” he said.

“And before him, Pope Benedict, when he was talking about the new evangelisation; that was a green light to us, wasn’t it?

“That’s what we’re supposed to be doing.”

Craig said he liked to be an active parishioner.

“I try to get involved as much as I can and make sure my kids are too,” he said.

He said he believed in the discipline of having the children attending Mass regularly.

“No one can tell me that us (as children) being forced to go to Mass, leaving Brothers against Norths (rugby league) at Bishop Park early and having to listen to it on the radio, to get to Mass, was bad for us,” Craig said.

“I firmly believe in the discipline of it.

“That’s probably the same reason that great NFL coach Vince Lombardi went there.

“Apparently he was a very, very, very hard task master but before he made his decisions he would pray about them and he’d go to Mass every day.”

In all his choices and decisions, Craig is trying to be open to God.

“Despite the fact that I have anxiety and, really, I’m not a people person, even though I’m actually really credited for that, that is my sort of mission,” he said.

“That’s what God’s chosen me to do.

“The openness of me basically saying yes to everything, goes totally against my anxiety … and that’s all because I’m empowered by God to do it, and I feel that’s me doing his work.

“I love talking about my faith.” 

Written by: Peter Bugden
Catholic Church Insurance

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