Shooting hoops for heaven: Boston seminarians form basketball team for God

The future of the church

Part of St. John’s success can be attributed to their volunteer coach, Patrick Nee, 44, a practicing Catholic in the greater Boston area who was a Division I basketball player at Brown University in the 1990s.

Nee had coached on the high school level, on travel teams, and even on his young children’s teams, but what made this coaching experience different was the “shock” of being immersed in seminary culture. 

“It’s not an experience like I’d ever had before, just being in a gym with 15 seminarians, being on a bus or being on a plane with them and just realizing how good it was,” he said. “And these guys are really holy guys that are just terrific. Getting to know them all, it has just been really inspiring for me.”

Patrick Nee coaches St. John’s Seminary’s basketball team. Credit: St. John’s Seminary/YouTube May 18, 2023

Nee, a high school state champion from St. Raphael Academy in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, said that he stopped practicing his Catholic faith during his college years and didn’t come back to it until his late 20s. 

He said that when he returned to the Church it took him on “a journey.” And over the last five years, that journey has “intensified” even more, he said, adding that “this experience has played a role in that.”

Nee said that it’s overwhelming “in the best way” when he is at the tournaments and “every guy you meet is this on-fire guy who’s studying to be a priest.”

One of those men on fire for the faith is Brian Daley, a member of the St. John’s team, Ferrari said. He recalled an incident at practice one day when a newer seminarian began to indulge in “light mockery” of the other teams they would be playing in the tournament. 

Ferrari said that Daley reminded his teammate: “No, these men that we’ll be competing against are all giving their lives for Christ and they’re great examples for us.”

Ferrari called it a moment of “deep fraternity” for the team, who were all inspired by the wisdom Daley shared. 

The deacon also said that as a team that fire is seen at every practice through prayer. 

At every practice, each player is handed a sheet of prayer intentions to offer up their labor on the court so that all of their work is “done with an eye that sacrifice is fruitful.”

Seeing all of the hard work the teams put in for one weekend showed Nee that they care a lot about winning, “but they never lose track of the bigger picture.”

St. John’s Seminary basketball coach Patrick Nee guides his players during the 2022 tournament. Credit: St. John’s Seminary/YouTube May 18, 2023

He said that being a part of the team has strengthened his faith and added that the whole experience inspired him to tell Schirripa that “we need to share this with people.”

“I wish other people could see this. I mean, if you know anyone who is negative about the future of the Church, it’s like, well, walk into this gym for five minutes and you’ll change your mind immediately,” he said.

Nee’s vision for sharing the experience with others became a reality five months ago when St. John’s Seminary released “Souls in the Game,” a documentary that “highlights priestly formation beyond the study of philosophy and theology.”

The 28-minute documentary follows the team’s journey from the early morning practices to the recruiting and training of the seminarians to the final tournament.

“There is no pressure at all. Go out and play. We have brought life to St. John’s Seminary. God has used this team and let’s go out there and show everyone that we love each other, we love our vocations, and we’re going to represent St. John’s,” Schirripa says to his team during a pregame speech in the documentary.

Viewers might be surprised by how competitive the games are, especially in the scene where 6-foot-4 Schirripa is shown slamming it down during the tournament, which resulted in a technical foul for the team.

Despite the penalty, the team was roaring with excitement at Schirripa’s slam dunk, a feat that not many players ever get to experience on a 10-foot hoop.

“We were ready to storm the court,” Ferrari said in excitement in the documentary. 

That documentary can be seen below.

Physical exercise such as can be had playing on a basketball team is something that every seminary should “absolutely” have, Schirripa said. 

“I think it’s absolutely essential because you need a physical outlet and you need to obviously have a healthy body, mind, and soul. But it also teaches you to work towards something that’s bigger than yourself, which ultimately is the apostolate,” he said.

“And so it’s such a great venue for formation,” he said.

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