St. John's seminarians promote vocations on the basketball court

STILL RIVER -- An exhibition basketball game between seminarians and other young men provided an opportunity to encourage vocations -- by showing that prospective priests are "regular guys."

Seminarians from St. John's Seminary in Brighton played students and alumni from Immaculate Heart of Mary School at the school on May 7. Brothers from the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who run the school, also played, helped, or watched the game. Spectators included school families and sisters from the Slaves, who help run the school.

"Coaching" for St. John's were Deacon Derek Mobilio, a seminarian there who is to be ordained a priest for the Worcester Diocese June 18, and Nicholas Jones, studying there for the Providence Diocese.

"I got the idea from other dioceses," which featured such a game on their websites, said Father Donato Infante III, the Worcester Diocese's vocation director. "Two years ago, we tried to organize this" type of game, with a day-long event involving many parish teams. But "everything shut down because of COVID."

Father Infante organized the game with Brother Anthony Marie Brackett of the Slaves and Peter Schirripa, a St. John's seminarian, with help from other people. The diocesan vocations office provided pizza to encourage the players and school families to meet the seminarians. The school provided other treats.

It helps to "let the kids know the seminarians are regular guys" and that "the priesthood needs regular guys," Brother Anthony Marie said.

Jackson Malm, a ninth-grader on the IHM Eagles basketball team, said one of the seminarians accidentally hit him in the lip during the game -- and then asked if he was alright. Showing that kind of concern is unusual, Jackson said, adding that the seminarians were "exceedingly nice." Before the game, they introduced themselves to him and others, and "shook our hands," he said.

"They're good; they're really good," he said of the St. John's men, who beat the Eagles 50 to 48 in a game in which each team at times had the upper hand.

"I told the seminarians we let them win because we want them to come back" for another game, quipped Brother Anthony Marie.

"I was hoping the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart would win on First Saturday," said Slaves novice Brother Louis Marie Bacon. (First Saturdays of the month are dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.) "She almost heard me, but men dedicated to God won."

"It's great to get families together," said Brian Daley, one of the seminarian players. "It's just good for people to see the humanity in the priesthood -- you can be a regular guy and love God." He said it's good for people to see that vocations "start with God, but they grow in the family." It was "an absolutely beautiful morning," with the seminarians attending Mass for the first Communion of IHM second-graders, he said.

Clarivel Dragas, whose son Emanuel made his first Communion that morning, said they "were happy to come back" shortly after Mass for the game.

"That was so exciting," she said. "It was interesting to see each team fighting (for) the next point. I did like at the end they did a nice prayer ... very lovely, praying together."

After the game, the players knelt in a circle and the seminarians led the Regina Caeli.

That wasn't unusual at IHM.

"We try to pray at the beginning and end of everything -- make sure God has his due," said Brother Louis Marie.

Prayer is important, and so is showing who seminarians are, Father Infante maintained.

In the future, someone who was at the game might attend a vocations event, he said. That boy might tell a friend, "I met the seminarians; they're awesome; come check this out."

"As much as we can expose them to the fact that seminarians are normal men who have been called by God," Father Infante said. "They didn't grow up praying all day. They grew up playing sports, doing the same things kids today do."

In a welcome, Brother Anthony Marie, IHM athletic director and Slaves vocation director, expressed hope that those present would see the seminarians in the sanctuary at church, on the basketball court, and at other events.

"Competition in athletics can help someone in formation so much," said Joseph Jasinski, a seminarian player.

"The good thing about this is, it helps you build fraternity," added Timothy Walsh, another player from St. John's. "This really helps us grow in discipline."

Playing against the young people can "give a little humanity to ... priesthood," he said. "It allows us to showcase: This is what formation is; it's all about growing together. One of the most important virtues is charity. Teamwork is founded on that."

Dario Dragas, Clarivel Dragas' husband, appreciated the charity he witnessed.

He said he noticed that when players got pushed or fell, they didn't display anger. They showed good sportsmanship and were "very friendly, smiling," he said, adding, "I love to see that."

The seminarians will one day be able to "give Jesus Christ in the Eucharist," Clarivel Dragas said. "They are our future priests; they need to be supported in their vocation."