Shula honored for commitment to Catholic education

MIAMI - His legacy is established as one of the greatest NFL coaches who in the early 1970s twice led his team, the Miami Dolphins, to Super Bowl victories and in one case - 1972 - an unprecedented perfect winning season.

Locals also know the Ohio-born Don Shula for his track record as a community-minded civic leader, businessman, philanthropist and often daily communicant at Mass in south Florida, where he has had long associations with several parishes and friendships with Miami archdiocesan clergy and bishops alike.

What may be less known to sports buffs is what Shula might have become had he not thrown himself into coaching at an early age.

"I was interviewed with him for a network documentary in which he says at one point he wanted to be a seminarian, although that was not included in the final documentary," said Father Juan Sosa, pastor of St. Joseph Church on Miami Beach, where Shula has been a longtime parishioner following an equally long affiliation at Our Lady of the Lakes Church in Miami Lakes.

At St. Joseph Church, Shula and his wife, Mary Anne, helped the Catholic elementary school there complete a three-story state-of-the-art educational facility with a music room, computer lab and spacious offices. St. Joseph School is now a charter school.

More recently, the Shulas launched a $10,000 annual scholarship endowment fund at the parish, which will assist one local family with a child in public schools transition to a Catholic high school in the Miami Archdiocese. The endowment will be in the Shula name and supervised by a parish committee.

It was a good time for the local Catholic community to thank the Shulas, Father Sosa said, noting that the community knows them for their dedication to reconciliation and peace at various times in Miami's history and for their commitment to Catholic schools.

"Every other organization, the sports world, the business world, the social world of south Florida and even the U.S. President recognized the (Dolphins) team from his era, and many documentaries have been made about him, but I don't think the church was recognizing him," said Father Sosa, who joined Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski and the Catholic community recently to honor the Shulas for their philanthropy and leadership in Miami.

Archbishop Wenski presented Shula with a lifetime achievement and appreciation award at a recent parish gala for 150 guests at the Miami Beach Resort, and thanked Shula for his support of Catholic education and in particular for creating the new scholarship fund at St. Joseph Church.

The archbishop noted that sometimes the priests of the archdiocese humorously refer to him as the 'Don Shula' of the local church for his leadership style as archbishop.

Also on hand were Sean Clancy, a former Miami Dolphin player, who was master of ceremonies for the event, and Msgr. Frank Casale, president of St. Thomas University in Miami.

"It's nice to be remembered," said Shula said, who is now 84 but who still keeps a fairly high profile in the community, including a recent appearance and public conversation for a "Living Legends" photography exhibition at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach.

In Ohio, the Shula family of seven children included a set of triplets. Shula's father held a job in the fishing industry for $15 a week, and later worked at a rayon plant outside of Cleveland.

The Shula children and grandchildren attended Catholic schools in south Florida over the years including St. Thomas Aquinas High School and Chaminade-Madonna College Preparatory.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015