There are songs that remind us of seminal moments in our lives. They provide a nostalgic soundtrack that can rewind our memories back to a time when a romance was in that primordial, hypnotic, bewitched phase, or the joy of a beloved child taking his or her first steps. All it takes is a single note to trigger an emotional response. The same can be said of a scent. About such a place, people will often say, ‘there’s a smell to it,’ instantly recognizable to lifers.

This place is often a Catholic school.

Final BNB Cover

What is that smell? My recently published book, The Boys in Brown, seeks answers to that question. The book is about a football season I spent at a Catholic high school in the Chicago-area, Carmel Catholic of Mundelein, IL. For three months, I was at the school every day, getting to know not just the football coaches and players, but students, teachers, administrators and support staff. After spending so much time on campus, even I, a grown man, felt what teenagers feel when walking the halls of the school each day.

That feeling is this--that no matter what, I’m worth the challenge. There must be something about me that makes these people dedicate their lives to educating me, and as a part of that education, bringing me closer to God.

What is that smell? It’s of diligence. Of enthusiasm. Of commitment to serve.

During my research, I asked one former principal of the school, Fr. Bob Carroll, to define spirituality. He said:

“Spirituality is being receptive of a view of yourself that you are worthwhile. It’s not the Lone Ranger, it’s not High Noon. It’s you can be receptive to the fact you are loved by the universe, by the cosmos, by a church, by a loving family.”

For a girl or boy who attends a Catholic school, it becomes part of their family.

The great writers from Catholic tradition say spirituality is walking through life with God as your guide, mentor, friend and leader. This belief goes back to the biblical prophet Elijah, who said spirituality is walking with God. It is a rising of consciousness that takes place. In other schools, a student can have it for themselves. But it can’t be a public expression. In Catholic schools, faith can be announced and a consciousness takes hold. That’s why there is prayer before classes begin, throughout the day and after school. Every day there is a raised sensibility that we live in a purposeful world with a great sense of comradeship and with a loving God who is willing to share things with us. So let’s get on with it.

I did not attend Catholic education. This was all a mystery to me. But as a writer with a natural curiosity about the universe, seeking answers to a few of life’s great questions--what is God? Where is He?--were the main catalysts for my writing The Boys in Brown.  Of course, we will spend our lives in pursuit of such answers. There is no absolute.

But within the walls of Catholic schools, young people—and old—are encouraged to express their faith, and by doing so, build a life-long relationship with God.


The Boys in Brown is available on Amazon; your purchase through our affiliate link supports Learn more at

Jon Kerr. Photo by Andrew Collings. Jon Kerr. Photo by Andrew Collings.

Copyright 2016 Jon J. Kerr

About the author: Jon J. Kerr is a sportswriter for Chicago Tribune Media Group. He has contributed to Sports Illustrated and Catholic New World. In 2014 and 2015, Kerr won an Associated Press Sports Editors award. In 2015, he published his first book, The Boys in Brown, now available on Amazon. He lives in Chicago.