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Hawaii NewsIncidental Lives

Star player for Team Jesus saves some spirit for sports

Michael Tsai

We have it on higher authority that should the University of Hawaii football team play to its potential, take its share of 50-50 games and avoid injury, it has a great shot to play in a bowl game this year.

Take it with a grain of salt on your Communion wafer if you wish, but it’s never wise to bet against Sister Joan of Arc Souza — if, in fact, the good sister actually laid wagers on such things.

Souza, 66, is the head of school at St. Francis Academy and a pigskin fan of the first order. Already she’s counting the days to the first kickoff against USC, already itching for the violent clashing of pads and helmets that heralds the rebirth of America’s ultimate autumnal game.

Growing up in Pauoa Valley, Souza listened to games on the radio with her father, a welder at Pearl Harbor Shipyard. As a St. Francis student, she would cheer on the righteous St. Louis Crusaders. Later, while earning her bachelor’s degree in theology at St. Joseph’s College in Rennselaer, Ind., she and her fellow brides of Jesus would watch the visiting Chicago Bears scrimmage on their home field.

Souza was something of an athlete herself, playing basketball in the days when women weren’t allowed to cross the half-court line or take more than two dribbles in a row.

But while sports was always a passion, Souza understood early that, for her at least, real inspiration, real devotion, would have to be drawn from something larger: "As far back as I can remember, I had always been fascinated with the religious life. I had a normal childhood. I’d dated. But there was always something missing."

That changed when Souza joined the Sisters of St. Francis, thus launching an academic and spiritual journey that would take her to Pennsylvania, New York, Texas and Missouri — but always back to her alma mater, first as a teacher and later as head of school.

The record will note the most obvious imprints of Souza’s 20 years at the helm — the establishment of an elementary school and the integration of boys to the historically all-girls institution — but her greatest influence is asserted in simpler moments, like her morning walk-around to check on students, staff and faculty, or the UH football tailgate parties she hosts in the school auditorium.

Souza said she draws on the examples of the Franciscan sisters who guided her early education.

"I want our students to know that every single one of them is a gift from God and that they have a responsibility to give back to the world," she says. "It doesn’t matter if they get straight A’s or are just making the grade; they all have value that can’t be duplicated."

Gracious and loving as she might be, however, it is grandest folly to mistake her for a pushover.

"I tell the students that only two things come in small packages," says Souza, who stands a scratch below 5 feet. "Dynamite and diamonds."

Sometimes both.

Reach Michael Tsai at mtsai@staradvertiser.com.

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