Sporting a black Team Priests jersey with the No. 44 — a tribute to his favorite player, former Lakers Hall of Famer Jerry West — Bishop Joseph V. Brennan stood out on the basketball court at the Chaminade College Prep gym in Chatsworth on Friday night accepting high fives and hugs.

Yet, after his team fell short of a second-half comeback in a 47-32 loss to Team Seminarians before several hundred engaged and entertained supporters, Bishop Brennan had a confession to make.

“I’ve been trying to get in shape for this, but it’s probably my swan song considering I’m turning 65 next month and my knees are going to tell me tomorrow how foolish this was,” he said with a laugh, still proud of the 15-foot jumper he made in the third quarter.

“It was fun to be a kid again with my brother priests and wonderful to be with the seminarians in this context of fun and competition. It’s a wonderful way to introduce the seminarians about what’s best about our camaraderie and brotherhood in the priesthood.“

Aside from promoting awareness of vocations in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the event that brought a team of 16 priests to play against 16 seminarians from St. John’s in Camarillo and Queen of Angels Center in Gardena was also a compelling and important fundraiser. 

Ticket sales and other proceeds went to support the online Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation’s High Calling Program, which facilitates initial discernment of human, spiritual, pastoral, and academic formation.

“This was a really a chance to get together in another setting, and bring Christ wherever we go,” said Father Mike Perucho, the associate director of vocations who not only coordinated the game but also hosted on-court, fan-related contests during timeouts and between quarters.

“It’s not just about fellowship, but the spirit of teamwork, integrity, perseverance, and character — all the things that bond us together. We have to remind the seminarians that when they become priests, we do all we can to support each other on and off the court because, in the long run, we are all teammates.”

Added Father Sam Ward, the director of vocations for the archdiocese who put his sense of humor to use as the game’s public-address announcer with a running dialogue of the action: “Not all men may love sports, but sports naturally bond us — this goes back to St. John Bosco as a diocesan priest in Turan as he brought kids together and created the Salesian religious order. That spirit and fellowship was a healthy activity, and this was designed as a huge family affair.”

The contest, streamed live on Facebook at LAVocations and remains available for viewing, was also an opportunity to expand social media awareness for vocations, as those who wished could put their support behind #TeamPriests or #TeamSeminarians in the #CatholicLAHoops event.

Team Seminarians lift the game trophy after their 47-32 win over Team Priests. (DIMA OTVERTCHENKO)

The takeaway for the seminarians — aside from an MVP award for Michael Croghan, who scored a game-high 14 points — was evident.

“We look up to the priests as big brothers, and for them to come out and play meant a lot to us,” said Larry Ballesteros, from St. Ignatius of Loyola Church in LA. “Taking the trophy home means a lot, too.”

Mike Masteller of St. Sebastian’s Church in Santa Paula said, “Sports is important for me for friendship and bonding and it was great to see priests in this game who I had met three years ago when I first started. I love how they made this a great event.”

Daniel Gonzalez, from Holy Family Church in Wilmington, grew up in Montrose as a huge Lakers and Kobe Bryant fan. He said that as a 28-year-old starting out in the seminary, he has quickly felt a sense of fraternity and bonding with other brothers.

“I think every Christian is called to be like an athlete for Christ in a way,” he said. “You have to practice. You have to set time aside with perseverance and prayer. You’re training yourself to be a virtuous person, trying to serve God in the best way possible. And you can look at God as the ultimate coach, who guides you.”

After the game, Gonzalez autographed a T-shirt for a 10-year-old named Luis.

“Here’s someone who says he’s now thinking of joining the seminary — how beautiful it is to see, this whole community come together,” said Gonzalez.

Tom Hoffarth is an award-winning journalist based in Los Angeles. 

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