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Villanova University to Host Follow-Up Conference on Vatican's Faith and Sports Initiative

Conference to explore faith and sports at the collegiate level and how college athletics programs can align their own activities and resources more firmly at the “service of humanity”


Villanova University will host a follow-up conference on the Vatican’s Sport at the Service of Humanity initiative June 7-8

VILLANOVA, Pa.—Villanova University will host a follow-up conference on the Vatican’s “Sport at the Service of Humanity” initiative June 7-8 on the University’s campus. The conference, inclusive of all denominations, is the first to be sanctioned by the Vatican following its inaugural conference on faith and sports in Rome in October 2016. The event will take place at the Inn at Villanova University.

Sport at the Service of Humanity: A Regional Conference on Faith and Collegiate Sports—hosted by Villanova University’s Office of Mission and Ministry in conjunction with the BIG EAST Conference—is an invitation-only event with participants consisting of athletic leadership, coaches, team chaplains, campus ministers and mission and ministry officers from colleges and universities, including many faith-driven institutions.

"Villanova is very excited to build on the Vatican's Sport at the Service of Humanity initiative and to support His Holiness Pope Francis' desire to explore how faith and sports can promote the betterment of society," said the Rev. Peter M. Donohue, OSA, PhD, Villanova University President. "The principles of the conference are fully in line with Villanova’s mission and values, and we welcome the chance to engage other higher education leaders on how faith and sports can bring people together and ready young people for life’s many opportunities and challenges."

The conference will begin June 7 with welcoming remarks from Father Donohue; Msgr. Melchor Sánchez de Toca y Alameda, Undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture; Michael Galligan-Stierle, President of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities; and, Mark Jackson, Director of Athletics, Villanova University. Val Ackerman, Commissioner of the BIG EAST Conference, will follow with a presentation entitled "A Vision for a Holistic Collegiate Athletics Experience." Bishop Paul Tighe, Adjunct Secretary for the Pontifical Council for Culture will present an afternoon keynote entitled "The Church’s Aspirations for Sports at the Service of Humanity."  

Day two of the conference on June 8 will feature the Rev. Pat Kelly SJ, Theologian and author from Seattle University, who will speak on "The Intersection of Faith, Spirituality and Collegiate Sports." The conference also includes discussion groups and planning sessions exploring how participating institutions can place their own activities and resources more firmly at the “service of humanity.” For a full schedule of the conference, click here.

The Sport at the Service of Humanity initiative was created by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture and is built around the “declaration of principles”: joy, compassion, respect, enlightenment, love and balance.  The inaugural conference, held at the Vatican on October 5-7, 2016, included two days of intensive discussion among religious leaders, athletes, business leaders, academicians, media representatives and other stakeholders, with a focus on how sport and faith can drive positive social change and foster inclusion, involvement and inspiration among people from diverse backgrounds.    

The inaugural conference was organized with the special support of the International Olympic Committee and the United Nations. In opening remarks to the conference delegates, Pope Francis noted the importance of preserving fun and joy in sports and making sports accessible to all, regardless of ability, and particularly migrants and the disadvantaged.  IOC President Thomas Bach and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also spoke at the opening ceremony.

Bishop Paul Tighe, Adjunct Secretary for the Pontifical Council for Culture, said: “The aim of the Pontifical Council for Culture, in conjunction with the United Nations and the International Olympic Committee, in sponsoring the initial Conference on Sport and Faith at the Vatican was to celebrate the value of sport; its capacity to bring joy to participants and observers, to promote physical and mental wellbeing and to create bridges between people.”

Bishop Tighe continued:  “The Conference brought together people from diverse backgrounds with a view to creating a broad movement— Sport at the Service of Humanity—to ensure that sport realizes its inherent potential to enrich human lives.  The Council is very pleased to be associated with Villanova and the BIG EAST Conference in the promotion of a conference that aims to ensure that this movement and the principles on which it is built engage the attention and the energy of key players from the world of college sport in the USA.”

Ackerman—Commissioner of the BIG EAST Conference, as well as past President of USA Basketball and the founding President of the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA)—was a delegate at the inaugural Vatican conference and served on an advisory committee assembled to develop the framework and content for the event. She led a breakout session on the opening day of the conference on the inclusion of women in sport globally.

"The BIG EAST Conference is honored to join with the Vatican and Villanova in staging this important gathering, which will help carry forward themes and action steps developed at the inaugural Vatican conference in October," said Ackerman.  "Intercollegiate athletics programs are an ideal platform to build character and teach values, and we hope the Villanova conference will reinforce these benefits and the role sports play in building bridges and improving lives.”

About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University’s six colleges—the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Nursing, the College of Professional Studies and the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. Ranked among the nation’s top universities, Villanova supports its students’ intellectual growth and prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them. For more, visit