(Photo courtesy of UML Catholic Facebook site) “Deacon Mike around campus plays Connect 4 against students as a brief oasis from the busy college day.”
Frequent visitors to O’Leary, McGauvran, or Lydon may already be familiar with something of a campus staple here at UMass Lowell. Sitting at a table filled with assorted snacks, keychains, and pamphlets is a unique sight: a man clad in all black with a white clerical collar, playing Connect Four. His name is Deacon Mike Mott, and for several years now he has set up this table for students on the north and south campuses to play games and chat about their day. His popularity has only grown, and his table is now rarely found without visitors (or competitors). This week I sat down with Deacon Mike to discuss the inspiration behind this unique piece of local student culture.
Deacon Mike said it all started with his experience working for several years as a hospice chaplain. Hospice Chaplains work closely with people who are at the end of their lives, providing them spiritual guidance, comfort and support. “When you’re in the hospice business,” Deacon Mike said, “it’s about care, and connection, and empathy.” After the hospice was bought out by another company, Deacon Mike found that the new management didn’t align with those values that made hospice work so fulfilling. As Deacon Mike put it, they lacked, “a hospice heart.”
Just a few months later, he had the opportunity to put those dormant people skills back to good use: albeit among a very different audience. “Monsignor Fay, who at the time was Cardinal O’Malley’s [Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Boston] right-hand man, asked me to become [a] chaplain here since I had been a chaplain at Suffolk for a couple of years.”
Eager to engage with his new UMass Lowell community, Deacon Mike said, “I wanted it to be a little oasis in the middle of the day to give kids a break, just to take their mind off of all the pressure of studying and relationships that they have and just have fun for three, four, five minutes at a time.”
The choice of Connect Four came from its quick playing time and easy to learn rules. “I thought about Connect Four because I’m competitive, and I think most people are competitive, right? But I also had many other games that people can play… if they don’t know how to play Connect Four, I’ll teach them.”
In addition to Connect Four, Deacon Mike offers to play rock paper scissors (best two out of three), drawing a high card and even carries a book of riddles that people who sit with him can try to solve. “Just anything, something to make it fun in the middle of the day, and I just ask
them at the end… if anybody should ever ask them where they can find a Catholic mass on campus, to let them know that we have Catholic mass at UCrossing on Sundays at 7pm.”
Deacon Mike stated that while about one-quarter of his interactions at the table involve faith-based questions, the vast majority of conversations are casual. “[Most conversation are] issues going on in their life, or sports, or normal conversation that you would have with people.”
Those confident in their Connect-Four abilities should be warned: he gets a lot of practice. After our interview he showed me a spiral-bound notebook he keeps by his seat. Inside was documentation on every person he played with that day, as well as the final scores. Among the dozens of daily visitors, it was apparent there were quite a few more wins than losses.
Students, professors and faculty are all welcome at his booth, whether for games or a quick chat. He can be found Mondays at Lydon Library, Tuesdays in O’Leary Library, and Wednesdays on the second floor of McGauvran near the elevators.