If you saw him cheering on the sidelines, you might have mistaken the 6-feet-1-inch, 265-pound Nicholas A. Marro for a retired Chicago Bears player.
Until you noticed his priest’s collar. He was built like a lineman, but Rev. Marro was a chaplain who worked hard to inspire Bears players before games, including the 1985 team’s Super Bowl victory.
“He played a role in the Super Bowl season,” said former Bears lineman Tom Thayer. “The reason he came to the Super Bowl is because [players felt]: ‘We need Father Nick here.’ ”
Former Bears quarterback Mike Tomczak said, “He was every bit a part of the Super Bowl glory days.”
“He became one of the guys,” said Mike Ditka, who coached the Super Bowl winners and was once an altar boy. “He was a man of God, but he didn’t shove it down your throat.”
“Father Nick” died July 18 at Resurrection Hospital on the Northwest Side. He was 84.
He was a big man with a hearty voice and a strong handshake. Even his dogs were big. One was a St. Bernard named “C.B.” Rev. Marro, ever the diplomat, would say it stood for St. Charles Borromeo, his parish in Melrose Park — and also for the Chicago Bears.
He delivered short, powerful sermons during 30-minute pregame Masses — abridged services that were appreciated by restive players.
Afterward, he’d have breakfast with them.
“He was just very reassuring,” former Bears running back Matt Suhey said.
“He really created a relaxed atmosphere in our clubhouse because of the Sunday Masses,” Ditka said. “Even the non-Catholics came.”
“They wanted some protection,” Thayer said.
Thayer remembers Steve McMichael, the hulking defensive lineman known as Mongo, asking “ ‘Hey, Father Nick, can you gimme one of those blessings?’ It was almost like ‘Mong’ knew Father Nick was a special guy.”
The same went for all-time Bears great Walter Payton, Tomczak said: “I always saw him there with Father Marro before a game. He’d go, ‘Gimme a blessing.’ ”
One time, the chaplain’s brother Michael Marro said, “I saw Walter Payton jump on him and hug him.”
“He related very well to the team,” said Pat McCaskey, the Bears’ vice president, who still remembers the priest’s pre-Super Bowl XX sermon. “He said that the scripture readings about everyone being important to the body of Christ was a perfect Super Bowl homily. . . . because everybody is important to the Bears — the coach, the team, everyone in the Bears organization.”
Before games, he’d advise players, “No unnecessary worrying.” And he’d pray that no one would get hurt and preach about preparation.
“One story that he used more than once,” McCaskey said, “was about a boxer who made the sign of the cross before his bout, and someone asked, ‘Will that help?’ ”
“If he can box,” Rev. Marro replied, “it will help.”
He grew up in Cranston, Rhode Island. When the life seeped out of the state’s textile mills, his father opened a hardware store. At dinner, Nicholas Marro would lead his children in the Rosary.
In 1957, young Nick — who played football in school — was itching to run on the same field as the Baltimore Colts. So, while studying at St. Mary’s in Baltimore, “He jumped the walls of the seminary and tried out for the Colts,” his brother said. “He wanted to be a priest no matter what. He wanted just to get on the field. He wanted to see what it was like. He had to get it out of his system. He had a little devil in him.”
Rev. Marro wound up with the Scalabrinian missionaries, working with Italian immigrants. He was ordained in 1963. His first parish was St. Callistus in Chicago.
He then served at churches in Canada — in Vancouver and Sarnia — and as pastor at St. Charles Borromeo in Melrose Park and Santa Lucia-Santa Maria Incoronata in Bridgeport.
“In 1984,” he told the National Catholic Register in 2007, “I got a call from somebody in the Chicago Bears office, asking if I would say Mass for the Bears. At first, I thought it was a prank by another priest, so I said, ‘You want me to play quarterback, too?’ ”
In 2014, he told the Chicago Catholic newspaper: “I’d say Mass for the team at 7 a.m. Then, I’d come back to Melrose Park and say the 9 and 11 a.m. Masses. Then, I’d go back to Soldier Field.”
He remained active with the Bears for about 25 years, his brother said.
He also presided at several Bears players’ weddings.
“I was one of the more nervous grooms he had,” Suhey said. “He married a lot of guys. He baptized all the kids.”
To minister to the team, the priest preferred to drive almost everywhere — Green Bay, Detroit. A white-knuckle flyer, he had to go by plane to get to New Orleans for the Super Bowl, though.
Thayer said he once commandeered the microphone on the team’s chartered plane to plead, “Father Nick, can you stop shaking? ’Cuz you’re moving the whole plane.”
Rev. Marro loved it when Suhey and his wife Donna brought Murphy, their French bulldog mix, on their visits to him at Resurrection Life Center. He’d laugh when the dog — which Suhey said resembles “a little Holstein cow” — would sniff out the treats he hid in his room.
Rev. Marro would enjoy an ice-cold martini with his meal at Tuscany on Taylor Street. He loved Rhode Island treats like Del’s Lemonade, clam cakes, doughboys and the official state drink: coffee-flavored milk. His speech was sprinkled with Ocean State words: Milkshakes were “cabinets,” and water fountains were “bubblers.”
In addition to his brother, Rev. Marro is survived by his sister Ann Marie Maiorisi and many nieces and nephews. Services have been held.
He never lost his sense of humor. He told the Chicago Catholic: “In a homily, I might say, ‘God knows what’s best. So if you feel you’re the best, it means He’ll make the best come out on top.’ It sure happened in 1985. By 1990, I told the team, ‘Maybe it’s time for a rabbi.’ ”