Sister Linda and “Char Char” at a Girls’ Varsity game.
I want you to rack your brain to try and remember a time when our biggest worry was who was going to win the State Tournament, and how we were going to get a beer at a crowded Eagle Street Grille. It was a simpler time. A time when thousands of people crammed into Xcel Energy Center, and many more listened to “Sweet Lou from the Soo” from the comfort of their couches at home.
As always, the State Tournament was filled with many stories. But there is one story you likely didn’t hear or read about. The story of the unlikely friendship between a Hill-Murray hockey player and a Benedictine Sister. And, given that it’s Easter Weekend, it seems like the perfect time to share the story of the Sister and the goal scorer.
“She’s not your typical Sister,” said Hill-Murray Senior captain Charlie Strobel. “If you asked her to go to a party, she’d be there.” The relationship between Strobel and the Benedictine “Sister Linda” Soler traces back to Strobel’s sophomore year.
“Charlie has always had a heart for the Sisters at the Monastery,” said Sister Linda. “I remember him bringing a bag of candy for each Sister at Halloween one year. He must have gone Trick or Treating, because they were huge! I can still see him delivering those bags.”
The friendship between Strobel and Sister Linda was built on a shared sense of humor. “When we were together, you could always count on some kind of laughter. And it was appropriate laughter, not at the expense of others,” explained Sister Linda. “Me and the guys used to get into a bit of trouble in the lunchroom,” said Strobel. “Sister Linda would always pull me aside, before I got sent down to the principal. The beginning of my senior year got off to a tough start. And she used to sit me down and talk about the Good Lord.”
Sister Linda and her late father, George Soler. "“He taught me everything, except how to live without him.”
Sister Linda Soler (58) is part of a long tradition of Benedictine Sisters from St. Paul’s monastery at Hill-Murray. In fact, it was the Sisters who started the school. Sister Linda herself has been doing campus ministry for six years at Hill-Murray, most recently becoming the spiritual coach for the football team. “I love it. They nurture my vocation!” she said.
Growing up in Saint Paul, Sister Linda lost her mother at a very young age. “When you lose a parent at eight years old, you appreciate your parents because you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone,” she said. Sister Linda’s father never remarried. He raised five children on his own, which led to an extremely powerful father-daughter relationship.
When Sister Linda’s father passed away last summer, the experience further strengthened the bond between her and Strobel. “Charlie knew I was struggling when I lost my father. Several of the football and hockey players came to his wake. But Charlie was always one to ask how I was doing. He always had a hug.”
“I remember it being a big deal when her father passed away,” said Strobel. “I owed her because she got me out of so much trouble. I wanted to go to her dad’s funeral to be there for her.”
Sister Linda’s father is gone, but she maintains a fond memory to this day, thanks to Strobel. “There were 500 people at my father’s wake, including a few students. I received a special flower bouquet from Charlie and his family,” she said. “And do you know, that plant is the only one remaining with me today.”
“One of the things that drew me to Charlie was his sensitivity,” Sister Linda elaborated. “Charlie has a very sentimental side. He has a nonverbal brother, and he’s very protective of him.”
The plant Strobel brought to the memorial lives on to this day.
A Benedictine Saint medal brought good luck to Strobel and the Pioneers.
While Sister Linda sees many Benedictine values in Strobel, a little luck never hurt either. “I gave each of the girls on the hockey team a Benedictine medal when they went to State this year,” said Sister Linda. “And when I was walking out of prayer with the girls’ team, there was Charlie! So, I gave one to him too.”
“She’s a big believer, and so am I,” said Strobel. “So, when Sister Linda gave me the Saint medal, I thought, man, this could be a little bit of luck. I should hold onto it and not just toss it into my locker.”
Strobel would give the medal to his father Mike, who kept it in his pocket for all three games of the State Tournament as the Pioneers defeated Moorhead, St. Thomas Academy, and Eden Prairie en route to the State Championship. Strobel himself would star, with four goals and two assists—none more important than his overtime winner in the semifinal against St. Thomas.
“We couldn’t repeat that if we tried” Sister Linda said of her and Strobel’s air hug.
Moments after Strobel scored the thrilling overtime game winner in the State semifinal, there is a photo of an airborne Strobel alongside a familiar smiling face in the crowd. “I could see Charlie skating toward the team, and after he came up to the glass, it was like a hug. A virtual hug through the glass,” said Sister Linda. “We couldn’t repeat that if we tried!”
Strobel was just as surprised when he eventually saw the photo. “I didn’t even know. I go to the band, and I jumped. And then I saw that picture . . .and it’s Sister Linda!”
The origin of the photo remains a mystery. “Someone sent that picture to me after the win against St. Thomas,” explained Sister Linda. “And I have no idea who it was.”
Despite not knowing who took the photo, Sister Linda knew Strobel’s performance in the tournament was picture perfect. “What brought joy to my heart was I knew Charlie’s mother had been ill for one of the games,” she said. “And I remember him getting introduced in the semifinal after she felt better. And I don’t know for sure, but I think he said ‘Hi, Mom’ in his intro. Looking back, it was almost like Charlie played one game for his dad, one game for his mom, and one game for his brother,” said Sister Linda.
Not only did the Pioneers win, but Strobel’s breakout performance leading Hill-Murray to the State Championship would quite literally change his life. Despite a stellar high school career and being the Pioneers leading scorer this season, Strobel entered the tournament without a college commitment. Over the course of three days, he was able to write a new ending to his high school story complete with a scholarship to play college hockey at the University of Minnesota. “God had a plan; Charlie just needed to respond,” said Sister Linda. “Then when I heard about the Minnesota Gophers, that’s Charlie. Nothing like waiting until the last minute!”
Reflecting on the Tournament, Strobel believes there was some divine intervention. “I knew she was praying for me,” he said. “I didn’t have a computer, but my parents would tell me Sister Linda sent you an email and is praying for you. I knew she was there, which is cool.”
Everything that has happened since the tournament has given Strobel even more appreciation for just how unique his story was. “It’s hard now that everything is so different with the pandemic,” he said. “It was a blessing that came from God. A week later, and none of this would have happened. It was great timing. I’m glad it happened, or I wouldn’t be having this conversation right now.”
As for Sister Linda, she’s still beaming, “To see that team, to see Charlie out there skating, when he scored, it just brought joy to my heart. He worked so hard not just for himself, but for his team,” she said. “We got our Amen.”