Mrs. O'Leary and Mrs. Battaglia Refuse to Share Credit for Prayers Aiding 49ers

NOVATO, CA — Since August, Father Michael Brossard of Our Lady of Perpetual Guilt in Novato has lead a rosary every Sunday morning at 7 a.m. for the 49ers football team—and it might just be making a difference this season. 

Brossard has lead an early morning rosary for several years, “Generally, we pray for the poor or victims of a natural disaster, and a few parishioners will show up.” But Fr. Brossard’s “Hail Marys for Hail Marys” has proven far more popular. The Sunday before the Cardinals game saw close to 100 people bowing their heads in prayer. 

While participants come and go from week to week depending on the point spread, Brossard has noticed two constant faces. “Mrs. O’Leary and Mrs. Battaglia have been praying with us since the pre-season,” says Brossard. “Their commitment to their faith and to the 49ers is unlike anything I’ve seen. They’re inspirations to us all.” Brossard then sighs, “It’s unfortunate that these two spiritual beacons can’t stand the sight of each other.”

Nora O’Leary, 86, and Irene Battaglia, 87, have lived across the street from one another for 53 years. Both women are retired nurses, both have three children and seven grandchildren, and both follow the 49ers religiously. They avoid acknowledging the presence of the other unless absolutely necessary.

According to Brossard, the rift stems back decades. “Back in 1971 Mrs. Battaglia brought beef ravioli to a St. Patrick’s Day potluck organized by Mrs. O’Leary. Upon tasting the ravioli, Mrs. O’Leary made a non-committal sound, like a soft grunt. And, well, that was the end of any chance of collegiality between the two.”

If Brossard hoped the weekly prayers would mend the rift between the two, he was wrong. “Look at her tacky beads, Irene should be ashamed to be seen out in public with that trash,” O’Leary whispered one Sunday, referring to Battaglia’s NFL-issued rosary beads. The strand, which features alternating red and gold beads is centered by a medallion featuring the Virgin Mary on one side and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo on the other. O’Leary glared at Battaglia’s beads, shaking her head and making soft, non-committal noises. 

Battaglia, for her part, questions O’Leary’s devotion. “Don’t look back now, but you’ll see that Nora’s not even kneeling. She says she’s got a bad knee. Bah! I can talk about bad knees. I had both replaced ten years ago, but you don’t see me sitting on my ass—pardon my French.”

After the prayers, O’Leary and Battaglia, separately, lit candles for Coach Kyle Shanahan. “I still pray for Joe Montana every night,” said O’Leary. “I still pray for Joe Montana and for Jerry Rice,” said Battaglia. 

Fellow parishioner Paul Da Silva also admires the women’s devotion, “With the Seahawks, the Packers, and the Ravens all coming up, we’re going to need Nora and Irene’s prayers more than ever. If God hears them, and we beat New Orleans by at least 10, I’ll be able to take my family to Hawaii,” said Da Silva, making the sign of the cross. 

Brossard understands that not all in community feel that the 49ers are the best recipients of the congregation’s prayers. “We do have some Raiders fans in the parish, and they’ve been going through a lot,” Brossard acknowledged. “But, it’s been a rough couple of years for the 49ers and the Catholic Church. We’ll take our W’s where we can get them.”

Brossard is optimistic about the 49ers chances for the rest of the season, “I think we can get to the Superbowl. And if Mrs. O’Leary and Mrs. Battaglia stay healthy, we can win it.” 

As for O’Leary and Battaglia becoming friends, “Now that would be a miracle.”

Suzanne CarrollComment