COLCHESTER, Vt. - The Saint Michael's College Community continues to mourn and celebrate the life of Fr. Ray Doherty, S.S.E. '51, who died peacefully in his sleep on Sunday night at the age of 91. Fr. Ray left an indelible mark on the Department of Athletics, first playing baseball as an undergraduate before working in Athletic Communications and serving on numerous committees over the past seven decades.
In a time when first-years weren't eligible to play varsity sports, and before he was known to legions as Fr. Ray, the 18-year-old sophomore made his varsity debut on April 29, 1949 - five days shy of his 19th birthday on May 4 - in familiar territory but in the stickiest of situations.
The Purple Knights were visiting Boston College, in Chestnut Hill, Mass., a village partially located in Fr. Ray's hometown of Newton. Classmate Jim Devaney '51 started on the hill and had two down in the first inning before proceeding to walk the next seven batters, sending head coach George "Doc" Jacobs looking for relief from the young righty. Fr. Ray allowed three runs on six hits over 5.1 innings while adding a 1-for-2 performance at the plate, picking up his only college hit in the process. As Fr. Ray recalled, his older brother Charlie, a World War II veteran and his catcher during summer baseball back in Newton, was a BC student at the time and attended the game.
Fr. Ray made two more appearances that year, including starting against Clarkson University on May 8, when he struck out a career-high three batters. Fr. Ray started the opener to the 1950 season, allowing four runs on five hits across three frames in a setback against Siena College. He recalled retiring the game's first two batters before Billy Harrell - a future Negro Leagues and Major League Baseball player - tripled. He only pitched 0.1 more innings the rest of the season, in a wild 19-12 loss to the old Champlain (N.Y.) College on May 3 - so wild that Burlington's two daily newspapers of the time had different scores. Fr. Ray did receive an early birthday gift that day, scoring the lone run of his career as a pinch-runner for pinch-hitter Ed Jadatz '50 in the seventh before staying in the game to pitch.
Fr. Ray's baseball career ended after that 1950 season, as he was awarded a scholarship to work in what is now the Athletic Communications Department as a senior. He also had a military career on the horizon, being called to active duty by the United States Marine Corps in October 1950 before ultimately being allowed to finish his senior year. Fr. Ray did later begin his time in the military but fortuitously was promoted from staff sergeant to public information officer before ever seeing combat, never getting sent to serve in the Korean War, which lasted until 1953. Fr. Ray credited much of his good fortune on that front to the writing skills he learned under John Donoghue '32 in Athletic Communications and as co-editor of The Michaelman student newspaper.
While Fr. Ray's playing career at Saint Michael's was brief - he pitched 17.2 innings over five games with two starts, striking out six hitters - he counted numerous other Purple Knight legends among his teammates, as Joe Pattison '50, Billy Hart '51, Edward P. Markey '51, Jim Whitlock '51 and Jack Heggarty '52 have all since been inducted into the Saint Michael's Athletic Hall of Fame. So have Jacobs, his coach, and Donoghue, his mentor in the Public Relations Department. After his playing days, Fr. Ray returned to the baseball program as an assistant coach under Pattison, the head coach between 1970 and 1975. The Purple Knights were 25-16 during Pattison's first three years, the team's best three-year run in more than half a century. He also aided Markey, whose second stint leading the program began in 1976 after Pattison's untimely death.
On Sept. 18, 2009, Fr. Ray took his place among the titans of sport at the College in the Athletic Hall of Fame, joining Bob Hoehl '63, Tom Kelley '69, Jason Curry '95 and Liz (LeFebvre) Bushey '03 in the induction class. Fr. Ray served multiple terms on the Athletic Hall of Fame Committee, including as the first chairperson (1987-91), and even emceed the 1993 ceremony. His résumé includes being a member of the Athletics Policy and Planning Board, and the College's 1987 and 1996 Athletic Task Forces. A familiar face around campus as an avid bike rider well into his late 80s, Fr. Ray remained an ardent supporter of Purple Knight student-athletes.
Fr. Ray was present for such important moments as the early 1970s groundbreaking of the Ross Sports Center and spoke in support of Purple Knight men's basketball players kneeling during the national anthem before a 2017 game at the University of Vermont. His priestly assignments included a short stint at an Edmundite parish in England, and a lengthy tenure at the College, where he directed Edmundite Campus Ministry and LEAP, not to mention working in Admission. Fr. Ray was a College Trustee and served on the alumni magazine executive board and Saint Michael's Fire and Rescue board.
In 2019, he earned the Saint Edmund's Medal of Honor, adding to a list of accolades that includes the Distinguished Service to Students Award, the National Alumni Presidents Award, and the New England Association for College Admission Counseling (NEACAC) Vermont College Counselor of the Year Award.
In an email on Monday, Fr. Brian Cummings, S.S.E. '86 shared a memory of Fr. Ray with the Saint Michael's community. "He always said that passing in one's sleep would be a blessing as you would wake up in heaven. We can be assured that Fr. Ray indeed woke up in heaven in the arms of his loving savior, our risen Lord Jesus."