Saint Paul Seminary community rallies at annual De Sales Invitational basketball tournament

seminarians praying at center court at the 2024 de sales invitational basketball tournament
Seminarians from The Saint Paul Seminary and Congregation of the Holy Cross seminary in Notre Dame, Indiana, pray at center court after their game during the 2024 De Sales Invitational basketball tournament.

It’s darn near impossible to get classes canceled at The Saint Paul Seminary. The men preparing for priesthood all live on campus. So do most of the priests who form them. Lay faculty and staff commute, but many of them live within a few miles of the seminary.

But on Friday, Feb. 9, with more than half the institution’s seminarian and priest population on a bus bound for Milwaukee, there were no in-person classes to be had.

That’s what happens when the entire community is invited to watch some of its more athletic members participate in a national basketball tournament pitting seminaries from across the country against each other. Sixteen players, 24 seminarian fans and five priests made the five-hour drive to St. Francis de Sales Seminary for the fourth annual De Sales Invitational Feb. 9-11.

And while an early exit in the first round of bracket play stung, the event has become one of the seminary’s favorite traditions in a short time.

“It’s incredible,” said seminarian Dominic Miller, who played on and helped organize this year’s Saint Paul Seminary squad.

Photos: The Saint Paul Seminary at the 2024 De Sales Invitational basketball tournament

2024 De Sales Invitational Basketball Tournament

It’s quite an undertaking: More than 350 seminarians from 13 seminaries in two gyms for three days of almost non-stop basketball. Each game is live streamed on YouTube, and the tournament is underwritten in part by Milwaukee Bucks guard Pat Connaughton.

The games are competitive. The crowds can get feisty. But there’s an equal sense of fraternity between the opening and final buzzers. With jam-packed formation schedules, it’s rare for seminarians to interact with their counterparts from other seminaries. “I kind of made the joke … it’s the United States Conference of Catholic Basketball,” seminarian Neal Anderson said. “You feel unified with American Catholicism, and that you’re all kind of fighting this battle together, working for the salvation of souls in this culture together.”

Anderson played three years of Division III collegiate basketball at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. Miller played for one year at the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota.

But the De Sales Invitational isn’t about reliving past athletic glories, they say. It’s a unique expression of community that few things can provide like sports can.

“Underneath the experience of sport and healthy competition was a spirit of brotherhood that reminds the seminarians that they are preparing to join a fraternity much larger than any one seminary, that of the priesthood of Jesus Christ,” Saint Paul Seminary, Rector Fr. Joseph Taphorn said. “It’s worth investing in a weekend like this; it strengthens our own sense of fraternity at The Saint Paul Seminary and our men are better for having encountered God and brother seminarians from across the country in prayer and in recreation.”

It’s the same reason Anderson, Miller and a group of fellow seminarians play basketball most Saturday mornings, inviting young men from the nearby University of St. Thomas to join them. The seminarians don’t get preachy, but they do use the opportunity as a means of connection with young people from all walks of life.

It’s also an example of holistic formation. Basketball has become a preferred way for many seminarians across the country to help take care of their bodies.

“I think sports are an incredible vehicle, especially to grow in virtues,” Miller said. “I grew in just natural virtues [while playing basketball] in high school, like accountability, respect, obedience, hard work, the ability to undergo suffering at a certain level, and these are all natural things, but they can be united to Christ and vivified into supernatural virtues.”

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