For the record, Sister James Delores of the Villa Maria by the Sea in Stone Harbor would like it known that she doesn’t surf. However, she was once a good enough athlete to be asked to join the first women’s professional baseball team in Chicago.
But this nonsurfing nun, who just celebrated 50 years with the Immaculate Heart of Mary (which owns and operates the Villa Maria retreat), is Stone Harbor’s staunchest advocate for those who want to ride the waves. The Villa Maria inaugurated the popular annual Nun’s Beach Surf Invitational tournament twelve years ago, after Bill Deger and other senior surfers asked how they could repay the sisters for letting them surf on their beach, which spans the area from 108th Street to 111th Street.
Starting at 7:30 am on September 15, the Villa Maria sisters will host the tournament again, selling pizza, cookies, kielbasa sandwiches, and other goodies while praying that all competitors return safely to shore. Also for sale: the ever-popular T-shirts depicting nuns on surfboards, which have become coveted items. “People tell us they see our shirts all over the world,” says Sister James. (The shirts are sold at Villa Maria, as well as at Pete Smith’s Surf Shop on 96th Street and a nearby clothing store called Global Pursuit.)
“I am a great lover of all sports,” says Sister James. “Football, baseball, basketball, and now surfing!”