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At St. Scholastica, the kicking coach wears a habit

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Maurer works with the scout team at practice.
Sister Lisa Maurer, nun and kicking coach for the College of St. Scholastica football team, works with the scout team at practice last week.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

At 10 past 5, the bell tower at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth calls 70 Benedictine nuns to prayer.      All except Sister Lisa Maurer, whose prayers will come later. Now, she's busy at football practice, dispensing fist bumps, hugs and constant encouragement. "Let's go Blue!" yelled the 5-foot-2 nun, as she weaved in and out among players towering over her. 

"Is it cool that I'm coaching?" she asks. "Of course it is! But in honesty, I look at it more as an extension of my ministry as a sister." 

    "Helping these young men to do as God is calling them to be, great citizens, grow into great people — I get to use football to do that," she said. 

    You'd be hard-pressed to find many places as dominated by men as a football field. Yet when St. Scholastica takes the field Saturday against Greenville College for its final regular season game, Maurer  will be on the sidelines, coaching kickers and punters. 

Maurer runs kicker through drills.
Sister Lisa Maurer runs through drills with Saints kicker Donovan Blatz before to their Saturday game against Westminster. The College of St. Scholastica won the game, 48-12, and clinched the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference championship.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

  Not only is she one of just a handful of women to coach college football; she is likely the first nun in such a role.   

  She sees it as a part of her calling. 

  The 45-year-old Maurer was raised a self-described sports nut in the town of Sleepy Eye in southern Minnesota. Her dad coached football. And she also became a coach.   

"I was living the dream," she recalled. "I mean, I thought I had achieved everything I wanted. I was back in my hometown, teaching and coaching at my alma mater, and I was coaching volleyball, basketball and softball, and we were successful. We had taken a few teams to the state tournament."  

Sister Lisa Maurer, nun and kicking coach
Sister Lisa watches the team during drills last week.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

And yet in the midst of all that, Maurer felt something missing. She knew she wanted to devote her life to God. But she figured that would mean giving up coaching.   

"Because coaching is all-encompassing — at least, for me it was —  and I knew that if I was a sister, that would no longer be my focus," she said. 

"And so I was OK with not being married, OK with not having my own children, but I was not OK with that idea that I would not have that thrill of competition, and just that anticipation of game day."

  Still, she decided to trade one passion for another, and in 2007 joined the Benedictine monastery at St. Scholastica, the year before the Division III school launched its football program.   

The practice field goalposts were visible from her bedroom. And slowly, Maurer was lured by the blare of whistles.  

Maurer leads a prayer prior to the final game.
Sister Lisa recites a prayer during the Saints' pregame breakfast Saturday. Before each home game, football players at the College of St. Scholastica meet in the Greenview Dining Room to eat.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

"I would ... sneak out to football practice, maybe go for a walk, or say the rosary, or just sit in the stands, watch the game, just because I liked being around it," she said.

  Then, last year, St. Scholastica hired a new coach. Maurer invited him to dinner. And Kurt Ramler says he was immediately impressed. 

"Talked a little bit about the offense, and she actually asked what we were going to run, on defense, etc. And I was like, that's a rather inquisitive question from somebody named Sister Lisa," he said.

  A few days later Ramler asked Sister Lisa to his office. She thought he was going to ask her to be team chaplain. Instead, Ramler asked her to join his staff as a volunteer kicking and punting coach.  

Maurer reacts after the Saints score.
Sister Lisa reacts after the Saints score against Westminster Saturday at Public Schools Stadium in Duluth.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

  "And I was like, I don't know anything about kicking and punting, I've never coached football before," she said.

  Ramler explained: "Really, to me it was just, wow, here's a passionate, intelligent person who wants to be involved in the program. How can I best utilize her energies and her skills?"

  So she studied up on kicking and reached out to other coaches for advice. She also leads team prayers and counsels players about off- field issues. 

Maurer reacts to a defensive stop for the Saints.
Sister Lisa reacts to a Saints defensive stop in their win against Westminster Saturday.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

  Ramler said that despite a few raised eyebrows at first, the move has been seamless. 

  "She's tremendous," he said. "She's able to wear her habit, go out there and yell at our guys when they're not toeing the line, and I just can take a step back, and go, I'm over here, being a figurehead, letting Sister Lisa do her thing."

  Freshman kicker Donovan Blatz said it was a little shocking to learn a nun would be his position coach. But he and other players, like Mike Mensing, a senior quarterback from Blaine, said she offers something other coaches don't: 

  "Off the field, there's definitely the sister part of her job, so you can go to her with maybe a little bit more personal level than other coaches. She asks me how my family's doing, how my girlfriend's doing. So it's nice to have a coach like that as well."   

Sister Maurer walks the sidelines.
Sister Lisa walks the sideline during the Saints' game against Westminster Saturday.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

  Last Saturday, St. Scholastica trounced Westminster College of Missouri to clinch its fifth consecutive conference championship, and a berth in the NCAA Division III playoffs, where Sister Lisa Maurer will be on the sidelines, doing something she never thought she'd be able to do again — coaching.  

"All that I get to do radiates and comes from God. And right now this is what it is, and I'm grateful."