Fraternity and flag football: Inside the annual Rectors’ Bowl

When seminarian Anthony Olmes made the excruciating decision to walk away from college football and focus more on his faith, he thought his playing days were over.

Yet there he was this past October, wearing a navy No. 22 jersey with “Saint Paul” emblazoned across the front.

It’s not exactly the NAIA ranks where Olmes spent three years on Carroll College’s roster. Not even high school ball, in which Olmes won a California Division 6 title. But the annual Rectors’ Bowl pitting The Saint Paul Seminary against neighboring St. John Vianney College Seminary in a game of flag football gets the competitive juices flowing while also highlighting the unique relationship between two seminaries literally across Summit Avenue from each other.

“It’s intense, but so fun,” Olmes said. “I’m sure I’m not the only guy who could say this, but for me it’s a good avenue for humility. … It helps us shore up our true identity.”

“It’s intense, but so fun,” seminarian Anthony Olmes said. “I’m sure I’m not the only guy who could say this, but for me it’s a good avenue for humility. … It helps us shore up our true identity.”

The first Rectors’ Bowl took place in 2000. The Saint Paul Seminary is 12-11 according to the game’s official trophy.

COVID-19 caused a two-year hiatus for the bowl in 2020 and 2021.

It’s rare to have a college seminary and major seminary in the same city — let alone as next-door neighbors. In Catholic parlance, college seminaries are for undergrad-age men who discern a call to the priesthood coming out of high school. Major seminary is a step closer to priesthood, designated either for men who have already completed college seminary or an undergraduate degree in another field of study.

Seminarians from The Saint Paul Seminary and SJV come together on many occasions, including the monthly Cor Jesu praise and worship gatherings in
St. Mary’s Chapel and an annual Borromeo Weekend Eucharistic procession with 40 hours of perpetual adoration. The latter honors St. Charles Borromeo the weekend closest to his Nov. 4 feast day. Borromeo is the patron saint of seminarians.

But there’s nothing that provides the blend of competition and fraternity quite like a spirited contest of the United States’ favorite game.

“The guys appreciate it, and I think it gets the whole community engaged,” Saint Paul Seminary Rector Fr. Joseph Taphorn said.

Seminarians from both The Saint Paul Seminary and Saint John Vianney College Seminary pose for a group photo after the 2023 Rectors’ Bowl.

Seminarians from both institutions practice for weeks ahead of the annual October contest at the University of St. Thomas’ O’Shaughnessy Stadium, usually held on the university’s Family Weekend. Those who don’t play show up in droves along with friends and family; there were a few hundred spectators at the 2023 game.

The fanbase often includes creative costumes, whether it’s Caruso’s Crew from SJV, a seminarian dressed up like Moses, or another sporting medieval knight regalia that looks like it was stolen from the set of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

St. Thomas coach Glenn Caruso himself usually makes an appearance, too.

And with three down linemen who are allowed to block in the seven-on-seven format, the seminarians who do play are allowed to get after it a bit.

“It often becomes controlled tackle,” SJV Rector Fr. Jonathan Kelly said.

The 2023 Rectors’ Bowl went three overtimes and ended with an SJV interception return for a touchdown.

“My dad who played [high school] ball said ‘that’s one of the craziest games I’ve ever seen,’” seminarian Deacon Nick Vance said.

The parallels between faith and football are well- documented. Being part of something bigger than one’s self. Delayed gratification. Finding meaning in suffering.
And they’re all on display each year — albeit in a game that’s ultimately for fun and fellowship — at the Rectors’ Bowl.

“We’re going to have fun together as brothers, we’re going to keep everything positive … and I want this experience to be something that [we] can actually take to our Holy Hour,” Olmes said. “We can take lessons from the field of persevering.

“That’s what has made it super fun, is it’s brotherhood but also trying our best to keep Christ at the center of it.”

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