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Can seminarians on the basketball court spur priestly vocations?

Souls in the Game

St. John's Seminary | Fair Use via YouTube

J-P Mauro - published on 11/22/23

"My time in seminary revealed to me that the basketball court was the best place to bridge the gap between the Church and the typical modern American male."

We’ve seen plenty of films about the seminary that show what life is like for a man studying to be a priest. Now, however, there’s a new documentary that’s answering the question: What if seminarians played basketball? 

Called Souls in the Game, this new documentary follows a group of seminarians studying at Saint John’s Seminarysome of whom had never shot hoops in their lives – who came together to form a ragtag group of ballers to compete in the DeSales Invitational, a national basketball tournament for seminary students.

While the film does highlight the competitive nature of a sports tournament, much of the focus of this 30-minute documentary is on the relationships the seminarians forge and the positive outlooks that these young men bring to every aspect of life. Produced by St. John’s Seminary and the Archdiocese of Boston, Souls in the Game tells the story of seminary formation beyond the classroom. 

A press release describes the opening of the film: 

When Fr. Peter Schirripa began his journey to the priesthood, he never would have thought that basketball would play a role in his formation. But with the creation of a basketball team at Saint John’s Seminary in Boston, basketball lept from a pastime he used to enjoy into a defining experience of his years as a seminarian.

Father Schirripa, ordained in 2023, is featured quite a bit in the film both on and off the court. His comments touch upon the duality of a seminarian’s identity as they transition from the laity to the clergy. He spoke about how basketball helped create a familiar space where he was able “bridge the gap” between these two very different lifestyles, and maintain a sense of normalcy throughout his seminarian years: 

“Shortly after starting at Saint John’s Seminary, I was fascinated to learn what John Paul II said about the humanity of the priest. He says that man’s humanity ‘must be a bridge to Christ and not an obstacle,’” recalled Fr. Schirripa. “Without question, my time in seminary revealed to me that the basketball court was the best place to bridge the gap between the Church and the typical modern American male. The hardwood helped me to forge relationships with my brother seminarians across the country. Basketball also served as the catalyst for the current men’s apostolate in my parish. Sports reveal a big part of our humanity and teach us what really matters.”

Souls in the Game works to foster in the viewer an understanding of the path to the priesthood by placing the spotlight on this lighthearted and competitive group of seminarians, who are far from the stereotype. 

Deacon Marcelo Ferrari, another prominent figure in the documentary who is still studying at Saint John’s, commented: 

“We are excited to show a youthful church on fire with faith. By coming to the basketball tournament, you get to see this bright future of the Church. There’s a lot of young men living the joy of the Gospel and following Christ.”

Souls in the Game can be watched on YouTube or on the film’s official website, free of charge. As an added bonus, the website includes a list of discussion questions that make it a valuable resource for religious education and vocation awareness initiatives. 

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