Orion Sang, Detroit Free Press

She was a punishing fullback who saved teamates from blindside hits. Now, she saves people from sin.

Sister Rita Clare Yoches, formerly Anne Yoches, will make her final vows to Jesus Christ on June 30 in Toronto, Ohio.

Just over a decade ago, she was a punishing blocker for the Detroit Demolition, the now-defunct professional women’s football team that won championships in droves. Before that, she was a tough point guard at Detroit Mercy who liked to party.

Yoches’ religious journey can be considered unconventional. How many nuns can say they knocked someone out of a game with a perfectly placed block? Or won four consecutive national titles?

For years, Yoches sacrificed her body for the sake of her team. Then she sacrificed her old life for the sake of God, vowing to live in “chastity, poverty and obedience” for the rest of her life.

“I think (my football career) is foreign to most people,” said Yoches, who changed her name as part of her conversion. “(It’s) just like being a nun is foreign to a lot of people too.”

Yoches, 38, didn’t find her religious calling until later in life, but she always has been an elite athlete.

Growing up in Dearborn, Yoches earned a full basketball scholarship to Detroit Mercy and played there from 1997-2001.

Nikita Lowry Dawkins was her head coach at Detroit Mercy, and she remembers Yoches as a hard-nosed player who never got tired.

“I often wondered if she was human or not,” Dawkins said. “She was great. She was good for our team.”

Yoches stayed in loose contact with Dawkins after her career ended. Which is perhaps why Dawkins was blindsided when she ran into Yoches during a game at Ohio State on Jan. 4. Dawkins, then an assistant at Minnesota, took a look at her old player, clad in a habit and veil, and asked:

“What did I miss?”

The news was shocking. Yet the more Dawkins reflected upon it, the more it made sense.

leave a legacy of faith