Former NHL referee recalls how God changed his heart

By Michelle Bauman

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Legendary NHL referee Kerry Fraser accepts his award from Catholic Athletes for Christ on Oct. 9, 2012. Credit: Michelle Bauman/EWTN News.

Legendary referee Kerry Fraser is known for his trademark hairstyle and holds the record for most National Hockey League games called. However, Fraser’s life was most deeply touched by a different kind of call – one that led to his conversion to the Catholic faith.

“It was overwhelming and powerful,” he said, explaining that God reached out to him through his wife and never stopped calling.

Fraser told the story of his conversion at the second annual Courage Awards Reception, hosted by Catholic Athletes for Christ on Oct. 9.

The ceremony honored local athletes from Catholic high schools, and Fraser received the 2012 Courage Award for living and sharing his Catholic faith with others in an exemplary way.

The record-holding referee explained that he grew up in a household without a strong faith. Starting what would become a 30-year career in the NHL, he worked hard to be in control of his life.

“It was all about me,” he said, and that created problems. “It was me that needed to be fixed. I was broken.”

His wife, Kathy, was Catholic and prayed to the Blessed Mother for her husband.

“Through the Holy Spirit and the grace of God, I was led every step of the way,” he said, reflecting on the events that led to his conversion.

In addition to the powerful witness of his wife and other people that God placed in his life, Fraser said that he experienced several “mystical events” that he attributes to God’s love and mercy, including one instance while driving to Pittsburgh, in which he saw an image in the sun of a baby in its mother’s womb and two joined hearts.

He converted to Catholicism in 1995, developed a deep devotion to the Rosary and began attending daily Mass, despite being on the road frequently for work.

As he began living his new Catholic faith and allowing the Lord to take control of his life, Fraser started to experience a profound peace.

“My life changed,” he said. “My heart changed.”

Despite the new challenges and obstacles that arose, Fraser always found an abundance of grace. His conversion touched both his family and his professional relationships.

“I was carrying the armor of Christ with me onto the ice,” he said.

Fraser told about how his faith influenced him in an encounter with player, Theo Fleury, a talented but “troubled” star who was known for his physical style of play.

In one 1996 game, Fleury showered Fraser with foul language and threw his helmet at him, calling for a fight.

Fraser said that his human reaction would have been to kick the helmet back in Fleury’s face, but instead, he looked for “a better way,” maintaining his temper and disciplining the player according to the rules of the game.

A few years later, Fraser recalled, Fleury came to him during a break in a game with tears in his eyes. A player on the opposing team, Tyson Nash, had been mocking Fleury about his drug and alcohol addictions, which he had been desperately working to treat, and he was overwhelmed.

While Fraser could have brushed him off or even ridiculed him, given Fleury’s attack on him in 1996, he chose instead to look upon the hockey player with the eyes of Christ.

“I saw a wounded human being there,” he said, explaining that he convinced Nash to apologize for his remarks.

Years later, he said, Nash confessed that the encounter had been a “life-altering situation” that prompted him to re-evaluate who he was and how he was acting on the ice.

“We never know what kind of effect we might have on people; how we can make a difference,” Fraser observed.

He explained that truly living out the Catholic faith will make a difference in the lives of those around us, even if we don’t always see the result. This is why we need to proudly “carry our Catholic faith with us and live it” in our schools, businesses and families, not acting ashamed or hiding it, he said.

Fraser encouraged student athletes to use their sports to glorify God, whether it is noticed or not.

“Continue to stay in the light. Lead by example,” he said. “Christ set the bar very high. But the reward is incredible.”

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