Kickin’ it Jesuit style

A group of Jesuits and Marquette colleagues pose together after one of their soccer games.

By Kevin Keenan, communication intern in the Office of Marketing and Communication

The teams running up and down the field playing soccer in Milwaukee’s Norris Park each week don’t just share a love of the game — they share the core values of the Jesuits and Marquette’s mission.

“Jesuits have always striven to become ‘contemplatives in action.’ Soccer offers a sort of analogy to this attitude. It allows us to become absorbed in an activity not for some extrinsic reward but for its own sake, for the joy of it,” says Rev. Aaron Pidel, S.J., assistant professor of theology in the Klingler College of Arts and Sciences. “In that sense, it prepares us, at the human level, to serve God for God’s own sake.”

Starting soon after his arrival at Marquette in 2017, Father Pidel began meeting with a group of fellow Jesuits and other Marquette colleagues Tuesdays and Thursdays, mostly during the school year, to play soccer — a game that, although it might not seem like it, weaves together the tradition of Jesuits and the university’s mission.

The league started in 2016 with Rev. Nicky Santos, S.J., and Courtney McNeal, program coordinator for the Hartman Literacy and Learning Center in the College of Education.

Father Santos — now a Marquette trustee who serves as an associate professor of marketing at Creighton University — and McNeal took up playing tennis together.

Then tennis eventually turned into soccer, and the soccer matches piqued the interest of Angela Wilcox, assistant director of grants administration in the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs.

Wilcox and Father Santos previously went on a retreat together and they shared the same fun fact during an ice breaker: “I like soccer.”

From there more and more colleagues began to join them — including a handful of Jesuits.

“A Jesuit is a member of the Roman Catholic Society of Jesus devoted to missionary and educational work,” Father Pidel says. “We seek to ‘find God in all things’ and dedicate ourselves to the ‘greater glory of God’ and the good of all humanity.”

The Jesuits also embody cura personalis, a concept of caring for the whole person: body, mind and soul. In the education ministries, they seek to develop persons for and with others. It’s a principle that finds its way onto the field every game as players with different soccer experience levels come together in teams to challenge and elevate each other.

The league consists of former college players, club players, semiprofessionals and even those who have never played.

McNeal and fellow league member Saúl Lopez, graduate assistant in the College of Education, have played a big role in recruiting more players. Lopez has helped bring on several international students to games, and McNeal has on more than one occasion stopped students wearing soccer apparel on the street and asked them to join.

Networking is what got the players on the field, but the entire group’s hospitality and care for each other is what keeps them backing back.

“It’s about fun and the love of the game. We’re cognizant of being careful and maintaining a great atmosphere,” says league member Angela Wilcox, assistant director of grants administration in the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs. “If anyone ever needs a moment to take a break, we just say, ‘OK, I’m going to step off the field for a second and get some water.’”

Though the games mostly take place at Norris Park, there have been matches all over campus, from Kilbourn Avenue and the Helfaer Tennis Stadium and Recreation Center on 16 Street, all the way to the Rec Plex in Straz Tower.

Another league member, Dr. Bouba Diakite, says the soccer games are responsible for some of his most meaningful friendships. Bouba is from the Ivory Coast in West Africa and an associate professor of languages, literature and cultures at Marquette.

“The connections made through these soccer games are proving to be much more than just a game,” Bouba says with a laugh. “I mean, for me in particular, I’m very bad at playing soccer, but I enjoy going there all the time. For foreigners like us, Marquette can be a challenging place to be. It’s big, there’s a lot of people. You can feel isolated, and it is amazing to have a group like this to connect with.”

The games take place on Tuesdays and Thursdays, all students, faculty and staff are welcome.

Those interested in joining the league for their games should contact Courtney McNeal at