Msgr Woods announced the 2022 Raiders Life Member Inductee
In the late 1980’s, it wasn’t unusual to see Canberra Raiders chaplain Msgr John Woods hurtling up and down Seiffert Oval alongside the professional footballers.
“Once it started to rain while we were doing sprints, and Sam Backo looked at me and said, ‘At least we are getting paid for this! What are you doing out here?’” he remembered with a laugh.
“I was on their turf, and I had to gain acceptance and credibility. If you gain an acceptance of who you are, and you are sincere, then win or lose there is a certain respect that comes with that. And that creates opportunities because you have identified with them.”
Msgr Woods’ swift-footed approach led him to become an invaluable part of the mighty ‘Green Machine’ – a trusted confidant of players, coaches, and support staff alike.
This month, 36 years since he first stepped on the field, Msgr Woods was announced the 2022 Raiders Life Member Inductee. He is only the tenth life member in the history of the club.
“I was gobsmacked. I had no idea it was coming,” he said.
“I can honestly say I have learnt more from the club – about aspirations, effort and teamwork – than anything I have done.”
Msgr Woods said the honour was an affirmation of the chaplaincy role, from a club that had already given him so much.
“Someone said I have become a father figure, and I think that is true in some ways,” he said.
“I’ve walked and talked and engaged with players. It is almost like having another parish. They aren’t all people of faith, but they are all good people.”
The Transfiguration Parish of North Woden priest once heard it said the role of a chaplain was to ‘loiter with intent.’
“You are there for everyone on a personal level, but you don’t report to anyone at the club or have or have any control over their playing career,” he explained.
“So, you can really be for everyone from the head coach to the newest girl working in the office. I always try to attend the home games. Players like to have that look of affirmation. It is a personal assurance that someone is there just for them. Even if you are not engaging with them directly, they know that is your role.”
The decades of Raiders’ chaplaincy have provided plenty of memorable experiences for Msgr Woods, but there is one that shines a little brighter than the rest.
“I can’t go past the 1989 grand final – the first they won,” he said.
“I wrote a letter to Mal Meninga the night before the final and dropped it at their hotel.”
As the team jogged out to warm up the next day, the captain asked Msgr Woods if he would speak to them, based on that letter.
“I had never spoken before a game, and the atmosphere was incredibly intense,” he said.
“I talked about how they were there because of their aspirations and because of the support of many people. I talked about St Paul and the strength of mateship, and how they were not alone, but together.”
With sport often referred to as the secular religion, Msgr Woods said its parallels with life are worth considering.
“It addresses success and failure, rising and falling, ritual and comradery,” he explained.
“You put all that together, and sport will take you to the entry point of what I think is the greatest story ever told – the journey of faith.”
As for the Raiders? They went on to win, as underdogs, what many would consider the greatest grand final ever played.
“And I like to think,’ Msgr Woods chuckled, “that I had a little something to do with that.”
- Monsignor John Woods is the Vicar for Education for the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn