Monday, 14 November 2016

Les Costello and the " Flying Fathers ".

 Lester John Thomas Costello (1928-2002) was a Canadian hockey player turned catholic priest. He was born in South Porcupine, Ontario, Canada and as a lot of kids, loved his hockey, he played for the St Michael Majors of Toronto and won 2 Memorial cups with them in 1945 and 1947. His boyhood dreams came true when he was able to put on the maple leaf sweater and play for Toronto in the NHL.
Not only that, he was fortunate enough to play in the 1948 Stanley Cup team with the likes of Barilko. Kennedy, Apps, and Broda and help them sweep the Detroit Red Wings 4- 0 in the series and capture a second straight cup and the Maple Leafs seventh since 1917. They would go on to win it again in 1949 again sweeping Detroit four games to zip.
             Les retired from pro-hockey in 1950 to pursue his dreams to become a priest and was ordained in 1957. He took a parish in his home of Timmins, where he was widely respected for his fun loving jovial demeanour and his tireless work ethic.
             In 1963 Les and colleague Brian McKee founded the `Flying Fathers` a group of ice-skating catholic priests. They originally intended it to be a one-off charity event, but the Fathers became a phenomenon and regularly toured North America to raise money. As of 2005 the Flying Fathers had played 907 games winning 900 of them and raising over 4 million dollars.
                  In 1979 Les got lost for over twenty four hours whilst out on a winter camping trip and due to severe frostbite had to have several toes amputated. Unfortunately his skating ability was badly impaired but this did not stop him, for the loss of toes he stuffed rolled up socks in his skates. His camping incident attracted international media attention. He had coverage in The People magazine and also appeared on the TV show Real People. As a result of all of this media coverage Francis Ford Coppola the film director of such iconic films The Godfather and Apocalypse Now offered the Fathers a movie option. He brought Wayne Gretzky to Hollywood to audition for the role of Costello, but the film fell apart when Gretzky`s acting ability proved unable to carry a film.
                   For the 25th anniversary of Costello`s ordination in 1982 friends family and parishioners started a collection to buy Les a truck to help in his charity work, He subsequently sold the truck and used the money to buy furniture and food for the needy.
                   At a Flying Fathers game in 2002 Les Costello was hit by a puck he fell backwards onto the ice hitting his head, he was admitted to hospital the following day after still feeling unwell, he slipped into a coma and died a week later at the age of 74.
As his parish was unable to accommodate the expected followers they decided to hold his service in the Timmins McIntyre Arena. Thousands from all over the country are reputed to have been at his funeral.
In 2005 a foundation to raise funds for food banks, homeless shelters and other anti poverty charities in Northern Ontario was launched in Costello`s memory.
A major street in the city`s Schumacher neighbourhood was renamed Father Costello Drive and the hockey arena in the town of Cobalt, Ontario is named for Father Costello.


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