Basketball Star who Chose Religious Life

Basketball Star Who Chose Religious Life has Ties to Benedictine

Shelly Pennefather at Villanova (courtesy Arlington Catholic Herald)Shelly Pennefather was a great basketball player, ahead of her time. She became the all-time leading scorer, male or female, at Villanova University in 1980s, and went on to play professionally overseas (the only women’s professional basketball at the time). But she was strong in her Catholic faith and enjoyed serving others. During the off-season she taught or worked at a soup kitchen. It meant a lot to her. After turning her team’s season around and putting them in championship contention, she made an abrupt change in her life.

In 1991, Shelly donated her player’s bonus to charity, gave up all her worldly possessions, and joined a cloistered religious order, the Monastery of the Poor Clares. Learn more about Shelley’s story here.

The Pennefather traditions of faith, service and basketball are strong throughout the family. Shelly’s mother is a devout Catholic who considered religious life at one time. Her father was an Air Force man who taught all the kids to dribble a basketball. One of Shelly's sisters also became a nun. Shelly’s brothers played basketball and one brother, Dick, became a coach.

Jane Pennefather in action on the Benedictine College home court.Dick’s daughter, Jane Pennefather, Shelly’s niece, is currently a junior basketball player at Benedictine College. Jane was a 1000-point scorer in high school, the conference player of the year and First Team All-State. She came to Benedictine for its strong faith life and academics, majoring in mechanical engineering and earning a Gregorian Fellowship. But her career goal is to serve her country. Along those lines, she has already joined the U.S. Marine Corps and spent the past summer in training. She hopes to one day be a Marine Corps pilot.

The family is clear that they understand these decisions require dedication and sacrifice. But they are equally clear that they are unwavering in their faith and there are no regrets.