Mark D. Roberts

Today as I was driving to work I saw a bus from St. Mary’s
University. This highly-regarded university, situated in San Antonio,
was founded in 1852 and is the oldest Catholic university in the

I’ve been familiar with St. Mary’s ever since I moved to Texas, near
San Antonio, two and a half years ago. But, until today, I did not know
the name of the St. Mary’s mascot. They are . . . the Rattlers. That’s
right, the St. Mary’s Rattlers.

I don’t know how that strikes you, but it seems rather ironic that a
university named after the mother of Jesus has a rattlesnake as its
emblem. Not an angel or a manger, but a fang-bearing rattlesnake.

I wondered how St. Mary’s came to be called the Rattlers, so did a bit of research, and found an explanatory page on the St. Mary’s website.
In summary, it explains that the Rattler mascot was named by Brother
Charles Kinsky in 1926 after a spirit committee decided to borrow the
name of the school newspaper, The Rattler. Legend holds that
the name was based on the fact that the school’s football field had to
be cleared of rattlesnakes on a regular basis. This seems not to be the
case. I can believe, however, that some real rattlers figured into the
story somewhere.

Now what I find most interesting here, apart from the odd connection
of the Virgin Mary and rattlesnakes, is the theological irony. There is
a long, long tradition that associates Mary with snakes. It is based on
a passage in Genesis 3, where God cursed the serpent who had tempted
Adam and Even to sin:

“Because you have done this,
cursed are you among all animals
and among all wild creatures;
upon your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.”  (3:14-15)

From the early days of the church, Christian theologians interpreted
this passage as referring to Mary, whose offspring, Jesus, would
“strike the head” of the serpent. Mary and snakes are enemies from
almost the dawn of time. But not at St. Mary’s University, apparently.

At least the Rattlers mascot conveys something strong and scary,
just the sort of thing you’d want for your athletic teams, unless of
course you go to the University of California Santa Cruz, where your
mascot is the Banana Slug. No kidding!

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