The New York Times has a story today about the priest-vocations director of the Madison who is officiating a whole other type of “service.”

He’s watching for foot faults and long shots and net balls as an umpire for the U.S. Open.

John McEnroe types may be red-faced to find out that their ump is a Catholic priest, but Fr. Paul Arizé takes it all in stride:

“Sometimes, I’m tempted to say, ‘You know, you have a Catholic priest sitting here,’ ” Arinze said, reclining on a bench during a break Wednesday. “But it’s O.K. Being a priest, you’re trained to forgive.”

Fr. Paul is from Eastern Nigeria who watched a tennis playing father and got to swing a racket after the adults were done. He started umpiring after watching tennis at the University of Wisconsin and befriending an umpire who got him to sit in the chair eventually.

He’s been told that he puts people at ease, which makes him a great candidate for the vocations director position with Madison. It’s also a great trait for an official to have. Someone who can simply make a call, even a close one and those playing know he has no axe to grind with them. I remember the worst umpires and officials were always the ones who thought they had you all figured out. When I played high school baseball, one umpire never gave me the benefit of the doubt because he assumed things about my play based on my looks (awkward and lanky–he can’t possibly be a good player!). Any close play was a call against me. Some of the stars on our team would get the benefit of every call based on reputation. I can see a vocations director who has to get to know people well and be so honest with them in helping them discern if they are right for the priesthood and religious community he serves would make a superior official. Everyone has a fair shake. Make the right plays and the rest should take care of itself.

The Times has the last word today:

His day job, at its core, is about recruiting for the priesthood. Tennis, and the attention he has gained from it, helps him. He can talk about his hobby, too, to show how becoming a priest does not mean one must give up everything.

Tennis officials have asked Arinze to consider pursuing the game full time. “No thank you,” he always responds, “I love my job.”

Arinze, in fact, is comfortable right where he is, at the intersection of faith and forehands, sometimes a priest, sometimes an umpire, but always officiating.

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