On a hot summer day, Fr. Alan Benander, O.Praem, is tucked into the cool confines of the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption at St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado Canyon for noon prayers.
FR. ALAN BENANDER PARTICIPATES IN NOON PRAYERS INSIDE THE CHURCH OF OUR LADY OF THE ASSUMPTION AT ST. MICHAEL’S ABBEY ON WEDNESDAY, AUG. 30. PHOTOS BY RENNE ENRIQUEZ/DIOCESE OF ORANGE
Before he joined his fellow Norbertines for the daily benedictions in Latin, Fr. Alan removed a black baseball cap – a symbol of the sport he grew up playing and loving, and one that has remained a passion since he was ordained in 2013.
Another passion, of course, is God – as well as fighting for the lives of the unborn.
“Baseball is a game of failure, and we as humans sin every day,” said Fr. Alan, who built a batting cage with his father in the backyard of his childhood home in a suburb of Cleveland.
What players and the prayerful need to do, he says, is get back up and dust themselves off after striking out or sinning.
“Baseball taught me the value of perseverance, which is something every Christian needs,” Fr. Alan said.
FR. ALAN BENANDER DISPLAYS HIS BASEBALL CAP WHICH WAS A SOUVENIR FROM A CATHOLIC BASEBALL CAMP HE ONCE WORKED AT.
The cap Fr. Alan wore was a souvenir from a Catholic Baseball Camp he worked at a few years ago that was run by Major League Baseball All-Star and Kansas City Royals Hall of Famer Mike Sweeney.
As a priest, Fr. Alan has met, worked with, and formed friendships with other big-league ballplayers, including Grant Desme, a former second-round draft pick of the Oakland As who left the game at age 23 to join St. Michael’s Abbey (Desme now is a layperson who continues to help there), and former Angels pitcher Justin Speier, who occasionally visits the abbey.
Although priests must elevate their minds to Heaven and have a certain detachment from worldly things, sports and exercise still can play an important role in their lives, according to Fr. Alan, who at 46 still cuts an athletic figure.
For several years, Fr. Alan coached baseball, basketball and cross-country, and was athletic director at St. Michael’s Preparatory School, which closed in 2020 when the abbey relocated to Silverado Canyon from Trabuco Canyon.
FR. ALAN BENANDER DECIDED TO JOIN THE PRIESTHOOD AT AGE 26, FOLLOWING A TRIP TO ST. MICHAEL’S ABBEY.
DEFENDING AND HONORING CHILDREN IN THE WOMB
Fr. Alan’s decision to join the priesthood came when he was 26, after his best friend, Eric, took him to visit the abbey when the two took a trip to California to attend some MLB games.
“It was a short visit,” he recalled, “but by the time I left the abbey I was pretty sure I was going to enter the priesthood.”
About a year later, he did.
One of eight children, Fr. Alan always planned to get married and have several children.
But while working in Cleveland as a computer programmer for Progressive Insurance after graduating from John Carroll University, a private Jesuit college, with degrees in math and computer science, things changed.
“After much prayer and study about the priesthood,” Fr. Alan said, “as well as a number of conversations with priests, I came to love the idea of becoming a priest.”
Fighting for the unborn – a lifelong passion instilled in him primarily by his mother, Nancy, and father, Vince, a high school teacher and baseball coach who formed a prolife group at the school where he taught – has become one of the works of mercy that Fr. Alan has done when he has the free time to do so.
“I remember being enamored of my little sister when still was in the womb,” Fr. Alan recalled. “I thought, ‘What, you can kill Megan? That’s ridiculous.’”
When his other duties allow, Fr. Alan counsels and prays with women outside abortion clinics and works with ones who have gone through with abortions as well as those who decided to have their babies.
“These aren’t clinics,” said Fr. Alan, whose time during a weekend retreat hosted by Rachel’s Vineyard, an organization that supports women who have had abortions and those affected by them, strengthened his pro-life views.
“These are abortion mills. I call them ‘abortuaries.’”
Eric Peterson, another former professional baseball player who played in the minor league for the Los Angeles Dodgers, recently began his formation duties at St. Michael’s Abbey.
Seems America’s national pastime goes together with God like bread and wine.
Fr. Alan recently began serving as a visiting priest at Santiago de Compostela Catholic Church in Lake Forest.
“It’s a very friendly parish,” said Fr. Alan, who has worked as a chaplain for parish youth groups, including at St. John the Baptist in Costa Mesa.
A propensity for injuries kept Fr. Alan from achieving his former dream of making it to the big leagues as a baseball player. But the priesthood is where he really feels like an all-star as he preaches not only the good news of God, but the joy and enrichment that comes with playing sports.
“The community sports at St. Michael’s Abbey built up the spirit of the community and helped keep us physical healthy – which, in turn, helped strengthen our minds and wills,” Fr. Alan wrote in the book, “Apostolic Athletes,” compiled by writer Trent Beattie.
He added: “I began to see more clearly how sports truly are a way to ‘glorify God in the body,’ as St. Paul exhorts us to do.”
His noon prayers over, Fr. Alan steps out of the church and back into the sunlight.
As he does, he makes sure to put his baseball cap back on.