“It was at St. Marys that I met and learned to love the greatest man I’ve ever known. He was the father I needed. He taught me to read and write, and the difference between right and wrong.”
George Herman “Babe” Ruth, Jr. hit his first major league home run one hundred and one years ago. He would go on to hit 713 more over his career. Playing for the Boston Red Sox in 1915, he was 20 years old. He might well at that time have been in a penitentiary but for a life altering event. Regarded as incorrigible at the age of seven, his parents sent him to The Saint Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, a combination orphanage, reformatory and school. There Ruth came under the tutelage of the most significant man in his life, Brother Matthias Boutlier, the Prefect of Discipline in the school. A large man who brooked no nonsense from his charges, Brother Mathias was also a kind man. He channeled the raw, animal energy of Ruth into baseball. Ruth said he fell in love with the game instantly after seeing Brother Matthias smack a home run. Throughout his life Ruth spoke of Brother Mathias in terms of veneration and gratitude.
Brother Mathias taught Ruth more important lessons than just baseball. The Catholicism he was taught at the school, for all his well publicized sins, stayed with him throughout his life. Both privately and through the Knights of Columbus he was engaged in countless charitable activities. He lavished money on Saint Mary’s Industrial School for Boys after he became rich through baseball, including buying Brother Mathias two Cadillacs, the second one after the first one was wrecked. When he wasn’t playing ball or drinking in night clubs, he could usually be found visiting kids in hospitals and orphanages, children having a firm grasp on Ruth’s heart. When he died at age 53 of cancer in 1948 thousands of kids stood vigil around his hospital. His funeral mass was held at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, with a crowd of 75,000 gathered outside the filled to capacity mass.
His baseball exploits will always be the stuff of legend and why he is remembered, but a love of baseball was perhaps the least of what Ruth learned long ago at Saint Mary’s, from a Brother who became his Father.