Hank Aaron was known to frequently read Thomas a Kempis’ ‘The Imitation of Christ,’ which he kept in his locker.
The home run king died today at age 86 — and at least one obituary underscored this important aspect of his legendary life:
Aaron and his first wife, Barbara, were received into the Catholic faith in 1959.
According to a Catholic News Service article from that May, they were baptized at St. Benedict the Moor Church in Milwaukee, along with their children, 3-year-old Gayle and 2-year-old Henry Jr. A third child, Larry, was baptized at birth.
“Mrs. Aaron said the Aarons first became interested in joining the church when their twins were born at St. Anthony’s Hospital in Milwaukee,” the article said. Both Larry and his twin were baptized, but the unnamed twin died.
The Aarons began their “instructions” in Catholicism shortly before Christmas 1958, and completed them when the Braves returned to Milwaukee from spring training, according to the story. “Mrs. Aaron said there are no other Catholics among family relatives,” it added.
In a 1991 interview, Aaron credited Fr. Michael Sablica, a priest of the Milwaukee Archdiocese, for helping him grow as a person in the 1950s, when baseball often reflected the prejudice and racism of society, especially that of the South.
“Fr. Sablica and I have been good friends for a very long time,” Aaron said. “He taught me what life was all about. But he was more than just a religious friend of mine, he was a friend because he talked as if he was not a priest sometimes. … He was just good people.” The priest was active in the civil rights movement, and encouraged Aaron to be more vocal about the things that he believed in but had yet to speak about publicly.
Aaron was known to frequently read Thomas a Kempis’ “The Imitation of Christ,” which he kept in his locker. He and Barbara divorced in 1971, and Aaron remarried in 1973.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord …