How does a water-skiing, fan-churning Aggie find his way into a Cistercian monastery?
If you watched Aggie football last year, you might have heard of this guy. He made his debut at the 2017 South Carolina game. At least that’s when most people met him, in all his Jesus-look-alike, long-haired glory — this Aggie senior lifted up on the shoulders of his faithful friends, James and John, in the stands during the midst of a tough game, his arms in the air, whipping his 12th man towel, cheering faithfully for his Aggies, with a prominent number twelve shaved into his chest hair. The Aggies loved him. He was caught on the Kyle Field Jumbotron. The Aggies cheered louder, and our team played harder. They won. You remember, right?
Quickly dubbed Twelfth Man Jesus, this student is now Aggie legend. Soon after that South Carolina game, a petition was formed on change.org. Over 10,000 individuals signed, asking then Coach Sumlin to allow Twelfth Man Jesus to lead the Aggie football team out of the tunnel for the Alabama game.
I was at that first game, where Twelfth Man Jesus’ face was displayed proudly across the giant screens of Kyle. His smile as contagious as the yells of the stadium. That was an epic win, and I’ll never forget the enthusiasm of that night. Images of Sam went viral on social media within minutes. I looked at those pictures and thought, “Hey, wait a minute. I know that guy! He sings in the choir at St. Mary’s. With a shirt on, of course, and his hair pulled back … but that’s him alright!”
Sure enough, it was Sam Tomaso, a third-generation Aggie, senior Civil Engineering major, and member of the Texas Aggie Water Ski Team. Dubbed Twelfth Man Jesus, covered by Texas Monthly, the SEC network and numerous television stations, photographed and selfied by hundreds, if not thousands, of adoring Aggies – his story was a dream come true for any Aggie student. What more could anyone want?
Well, actually, Sam did want more. Looking like Jesus wasn’t enough. “I’m trying to look like him, even beyond appearance. I’m trying to be Him to others. If this spreads a little joy, then I think I’m being a little like Him.”
Sam Tomaso’s urge to be “a little like Him” grew over time and prayer. At the end of his senior year, Sam discerned his call to enter the Cistercian monastery in Dallas, Texas. “I went to Cistercian from 5th to 12th grade. I felt at home there, and I decided that should be my next step.”
How does a water-skiing, fan-churning Aggie find his way into a Cistercian monastery, you might ask? We had a chance to talk with Sam just days before he entered the monastery. He was about to leave contact with family, friends, media and the outside world for a full year. Yet, he took a few minutes to share his story with us.
St. Mary’s played a vital role in his discernment journey. Sam shared, “Everything was centered around daily Mass at St. Mary’s. One day, I got a nudge to walk across the street from my Northside dorm to go to daily Mass. Then, I went the next day and the next day. It became a habit. I became aware of the beauty of the sacrament of the Eucharist and the vocation of the priesthood in a really special way. That didn’t really hit me until I went to Mass every day.”
At St. Mary’s, we easily have 250-300 students at daily Mass each day. What was it about this experience for Sam that made him decide religious life was his calling?
“Slowly but surely, I saw the beauty in the vocation from the priests at St. Mary’s, by how genuinely they lived out their vocation and how happily they tried to be Christ to the communities they shepherded. That was inspiring to me! That’s something that every priest I’ve met at St. Mary’s does. They’ve all been extremely genuine about who they are, what their mission is and who they are trying to be – which is Christ – even through Fr. Brian’s silly sound effects and jokes!”
Sam had a few words of good advice to share with new Aggies.
“Don’t get too comfortable! Your job isn’t to just stay in the St. Mary’s Student Center … that’s part of your job, but the other part is to minister to the rest of our great school! Join other clubs, get to know other people … for example, when I was on the A&M Water Ski Team, everyone there knew me as the ‘religious person.’ I was the first person they’d ever met who was considering being a priest, but I also had fun with them. That was cool. That’s a way for you, too, to interact with the world!”
While we are out here interacting with the world, Sam is probably still getting used to his new monastic life of prayer, study and work. He will spend this novitiate year hidden away behind the strong limestone walls of Our Lady of Dallas Abbey. He will not be in contact with family, friends, media or the outside world. He will spend a full year in prayer and community with his brothers, discerning his future vocation. He won’t be watching the Aggies play South Carolina this weekend, and no longer sports his beard or long hair.
Twelfth Man Jesus has long been shaved and trimmed away. Sam Tomaso has “put on Christ” in a new fashion — where men wear robes rather than overalls and chant rather than yell. No matter which way Sam’s vocation turns, his example is inspiring. May we all strive for an authentic imitation of Christ.
Let us all keep Sam and all men and women in religious formation in our prayers! Gig’em!