This past January, the seminary basketball team, nicknamed the Bruté Buffaloes, traveled to Mundelein Seminary for the annual Father Pat O’Malley Invitational basketball tournament. This is my favorite seminary sport tournament of the year; it is basically the NCAA tournament of seminaries.
I had the special opportunity to coach the team this year after I was unable to play because of an injury. I was originally disappointed that I would not be able to play in the tournament games, but coaching offered me a different perspective on the tournament. Because I was off the court during the games, roaming the sidelines like a bonafide head coach, I was able to step back and enjoy the tournament for what it was: a beautiful opportunity for fraternity, human formation, and the advancement of vocations.
These tournaments make for great fraternity between the seminarians. For Bruté, the basketball team is a close-knit group of guys. We bond over the course of the practice season and the tournament itself. It is a great opportunity to grow closer to each other as teammates. However, this fraternity is not limited to just within a particular seminary but between all the seminaries. At the tournament, I see this especially with the way that the different seminaries root for each other. Bruté, as one of the few minor (or college) seminaries at the tournament, is always rooted for by the other seminaries. This is because everyone loves an underdog, and the minor seminaries are a clear underdog because the major seminaries have more players to choose from and older players.
I am always edified at the end of the games when all the players come together, shake hands, and pray. It’s so good to see the players who just played their hearts out for an entire game, re-center themselves, and join with their opponents in a peaceful moment of prayer. It’s a beautiful witness to the purpose of the tournament: to bring seminarians together in fraternity and faith.
One might think that a weekend of basketball and fun is separate from the goal of seminary formation, but the opposite is very much true. I think tournaments like these are good, especially for human formation. Human formation is one of the central dimensions of seminary formation. It focuses primarily on the formation of the man into a better man, and these tournaments give seminarians the opportunity to learn to work cooperatively, compete respectfully, and form an active lifestyle. Of course, the cooperative work at these tournaments is the work of the team towards the goal of winning. This requires communication and sacrifice, both extremely important skills to learn. Respectful competition is important because being able to compete, lose, and win with class is crucial to life. Forming and maintaining an active lifestyle is vital, and it is achieved with the act of playing the game (running, jumping, etc.) and the preparation for the tournament (practices -yes, we have practices-, laps, and drills in the gym). These are all important to the formation of priests as able to work with others, accept winning and losing, and live an active lifestyle.
These tournaments are good for the advancement of vocations because they show seminarians in a different light. Seminarians are able to get out of the seminary and into the real world; they are able to be seen as normal men discerning God’s will for their lives. Whenever I travel to a school in my diocese to visit the students, I always make a point to say that ‘seminarians are just normal guys.’ This is not to mention the fact that the kids love hearing about the stories of the sports we play, and then they want to see the seminarian’s real skills and play with them at recess. This experience for a young man is impactful because the seminarian and seminary life becomes tangible for him in that moment, and maybe, he becomes able to put himself into the seminarian’s shoes and see himself as a future seminarian.
Overall, seminary sport tournaments are awesome. They have given me some of my favorite memories from my time at Bruté, from buzzer-beaters to long tournament runs, and some of my greatest friends. These tournaments have taught me to be a better man and to praise the Lord always, even after a tough loss.
Nick Monnin is a seminarian from the Class of 2021 studying for the Diocese of Fort Wayne – South Bend