Father, you cudda been a contenda!

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Actually, Jesuit Father Kevin Wildes, was a contender!

The president of Loyola University New Orleans was accomplished enough as an amateur boxer and student at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia that he competed in the Golden Gloves competition.

Now 59, Father Wildes runs five mornings a week and then drives to the Friday Night Fights boxing gym on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard three afternoons a week to shadow box, pound the speed bag and heavy bag, and then spar three rounds, quite often with Tulane University medical student Zach Harris, 29, who once played safety on the Harvard University football team.

Do any of his colleagues think he’s crazy sparring a man half his age? “Yeah, well, they wonder,” Father Wildes says with a broad smile.

Does he ever think of a particular faculty member while he’s looking for an opening against his opponent?

“Never,” he said, smiling. “I’m just trying to keep from getting hit. Maybe if I’m working the bag … but that’s because the bag doesn’t hit back.”

Father Wildes, the son of the chief of detectives of the New Jersey State Police, has been boxing since age 17. He says the unusual avocation helps him serve as a better priest and administrator.

“My dad was a golfer, and I used to play with him even though I’m terrible at it,” Father Wildes said. “One time he finally said to me, ‘You don’t have to do this anymore.’ But I realized in watching him go out there, he would focus only on the golf ball. It was like Zen. When I’m in the ring with Zach or somebody else and they’re trying to punch me, I don’t think about anything. That’s why I find it relaxing. I find I think better, I pray better and I’m a better human being when I work out, and this helps me organize my workouts.”

Every person, Father Wildes said, needs to find some hobby or sport “that renews you.”

“I have a very good friend who is a Jesuit, and his great thing is stamp collecting,” he said. “That would drive me crazy. I think it’s because when you’re involved in the intellectual world, it’s all up here. You need to engage the whole body in something.”

He’s run three marathons – but no more! “It’s the curse of a classical education,” he said. Around mile 20 in his final marathon – “when I thought I was going to die” – the thought crossed his mind: “You know, the first guy who did this died. He ran from Marathon to Athens, he announced the victory and then dropped dead. This is not a good idea.”

The boxing ring continued to call. “I still run in the mornings because I like to spar,” he said. “If you’re not in shape, you’ll die. It’s the longest three minutes of your life.”

Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at pfinney@clarionherald.org.

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