Flying Fathers History
Fr. Les Costello, who played for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1940's and won a Stanley Cup in 1948 said, "The reason we win so many games, is, because we cheat!" Fr. Les Costello and Fr. Brian McKee were co-founders. In what was suppose to be a one-time event fund raiser turned into an institution with the Flying Fathers receiving great notoriety across Canada.
The founding of The Flying Fathers was inspired by the success of a what was planned as a single local hockey charity game in North Bay. One of the church's alter boys sustained a serious eye injury in a hockey game. He required surgery, however the young boy's mom was a single parent and only just getting by. Fr. Brian McKee had the idea of forming a hockey team of fellow priests who would bring their own brand of hockey and shenanigans to the ice against an opposing team consisting of area celebrities, police, teachers and so on. Playing plenty of tricks, indulging in mischief and gimmicks and sprinkling holy water on the ice to help them win, the fund raiser was a success. The Flying Fathers won that first game 7-3. Years later in an interview Fr. Les Costello, who played for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1940's and won a Stanley Cup in 1948 said, "The reason we win so many games, is, because we cheat!" Fr. Les Costello and Fr. Brian McKee were co-founders. That first game raised $5,000 for the family, and from there The Flying Fathers became a Canadian Catholic tradition for 45 years! Disbanding was about the only option the organization had by 2009 due to the age and the lack of players. However the team made a come back in Peterborough, Ontario in January of 2018. Fr. John Perdue and a former Flying Fathers general manager Frank Quinn have breathed new life in the charity! The original Flying Fathers were busy over the years having played more than 900 games while touring across Canada and raising better than $4 million for a number of charities. Hollywood nearly made a movie about The Flying Fathers but tragically Fr. Costello succumbed to a head injury he had suffered hitting the ice during a game. He passed away about a week after the accident on December 10, 2002. He was 74. The original Fathers played their last game in March of 2009.
Fr. Brian McKee may have had reservations about becoming a Roman Catholic priest, but he was ordained and following his death, his younger sister Sybil Cangiano said, "He never regretted becoming a priest." In describing her brother in his high school years, she stated, "He was very athletic. He was a good runner and a good football player -- he was the quarterback, very popular, but extremely shy." Brian McKee might of had a career in professional football following a successful tryout for the Canadian Football League's Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Football would not be his calling. He was ordained on April 6, 1957 and was stationed at Pro-Cathedral of the Assumption in North Bay.
An understanding and compassionate man, Fr. McKee understood people and their needs and was a man of immediate action in advocating for a better life situation for each. Brian McKee found himself in Sudbury by 1964 and took on the position of Director of Catholic Charities. This was just the tip of the iceberg in so far as what he accomplished in his lifetime. Throughout his career Brian McKee received many accolades for his work and tireless efforts, and although grateful, he wasn't that interested in the attention, but more so through his faith and commitment he knew the importance of helping, sharing and loving. In his heart and soul, his feelings were incontestable. These were the right things to do.
Fr. Brian McKee died on November 15, 2000. He had been battling cancer. He was in his 71st year. In November of 2010, the late Fr. Brian McKee was honoured with the unveiling of a memorial plaque at the Sudbury Community Arena. The plaque displays a photograph of Brian McKee at a younger age and most appropriately, shows off an inscribed hockey stick.
In addition to the Flying Fathers, McKee also played an integral role in starting the Sudbury Food Bank. He was the founder of the Knights of Columbus Youth Camp. His community involvement was so extensive that everyone knew Fr. McKee and everyone loved him! At the unveiling of the commemorative plaque, a friend and priest, Rev. John Caswell reminisced their high school days revealing Brian's nickname, "Buck" recognizing his strength and speed, but likely more so for his "relentless pursuit of funding".
In the Sudbury Star Newspaper November 17, 2010 issue, Geoffrey Lougheed, Chair of the Sudbury Food Bank reminisced, "I will always remember the rain coat. It was patched and old, worn thin by years of use. Certainly no match for Sudbury winters. Yet Father Brian McKee refused to wear anything else." He also described how Fr. McKee would stand with bucket in hand outside at Science North, asking for donations. McKee would not wear a parka, even one which had been purchased for him. Lougheed said, "My biggest issue was, 'Don't get sick. You're valuable.' He turned to me and he said, 'You don't get it. When people see that old rain coat with the patches, it represents a lot of people that need help.'"
There were other posthumous honours extended on behalf of Fr. McKee. On December 1, 2003 Solidarity Lane which runs from Lloyd Street down to a cul de sac at Brady Street, was renamed Brian McKee Lane. The St. Joseph's Foundation of Sudbury honoured the late Fr. McKee on April 29, 2006 by naming the town square at St. Joseph's Villa, a long-term care home, after him. The Knights of Columbus named their council in Father McKee’s honour and founded a Cambrian College bursary in his name in 2011. Wishing to extend the life of the bursary, the Knights topped it off with a $5,000 cheque to Cambrian College and Cambrian Foundation in April of 2017.
Sonya Pidutti, a member of the Sudbury Regional Hospital Foundation Board of Directors in 2010 was quoted in the Sudbury Star November 17th issue as stating, "You just can't forget Father McKee. He was the most unpretentious man I had ever met. He told it like it was, but he had a kind heart".
Leslie John Thomas Costello was born on February 16 1928, South Porcupine. He was described as a speedy 5'8" 158lb left wing. He harboured dreams of playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs while growing up. He found a greater calling and entered St. Michael's college. He studied and continued to play hockey under the legendary Fr. David Bauer. The team won the Memorial Cup in 1945 and in 1947. Following graduation from St. Michael's Costello joined the Leaf's farm team, the Pittsburgh Hornets of the AHL. He enjoyed a successful first pro-season with the Hornets scoring 32 goals and 54 points in 68 games. This lead to being called up by the Leafs to help in the 1948 playoff run. He played in five games, scored twice and provided two assists. His name would be included on the Stanley Cup.
Costello played with the Leafs in 15 games during the following season. He saw action mainly in the minors but was called up by the Leafs for the 1949-50 season playoffs, although he saw action in only one playoff game.
Retiring from professional hockey, Costello began seminary studies and was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1957. He served parishes in South Porcupine, Kirkland Lake and Timmins. He then made his way to St. Alphonsus parish in Schumacher. Upon his death, there was an estimated 2,200 people who attended his funeral in Timmins. Most fitting, it was held at a hockey rink.