By Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor and Rich Fisher |Correspondent
Students in St. John Vianney High School in Holmdel expected their recent pep rally to be fun, colorful and filled with good-natured competition. But they were completely taken by surprise Dec. 15 when six priests ran out onto the basketball court for a friendly exhibition game – all with the intention to teach about vocations.
Photo Gallery: Priest, student basketball game at SJV
The basketball game was a way “to reach out and let them know that priests are approachable and they, too, can enjoy hobbies,” said Father Michael Wallack, priest secretary to Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., and diocesan director of vocations. Through the game, hopefully the message was conveyed that priests “don’t always just stay in the church all week, waiting for Sunday.”
“Most people don’t really know what a priest does during the week besides writing a homily,” said Father Wallack, who was joined on the court by Father John Michael Patilla, parochial vicar of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel and chaplain in St. John Vianney High School; Father Augusto Gamalo, parochial vicar of St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton Square; Father Gregg Leo Abadilla, parochial vicar of St. Clement Parish, Matawan; Father Dean Gaudio, pastor of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish, Avon, and Father Thomas Vala, pastor of St. Clement Parish.
Wowing the Crowd
It didn’t take long before the game between the SJV Lancers and the priests, who called themselves God Squad II, went from being a friendly game of hoops to a competitive match that resulted in a 4-2 win for St. John Vianney. Highlights of the exciting, fast-moving game were captured in a catchy YouTube video produced by the diocesan Department of Multimedia Production. The video, which went live Dec. 21, may be seen at TrentonMonitor.com>Multimedia>Videos or on the diocesan YouTube channel. To date, the video has nearly 500 views on YouTube.
Also evidenced in video and in comments following the game was the strong camaraderie between the priests as they reflected on how the basketball game could serve as an effective vocation tool.
“Sports is a good avenue to promote vocations and meet kids where they are at,” was the comment made by Father Patilla. And Father Vala, who smiled when he said he lasted longer than he thought he would in the game, found the day to be fun and thought the “kids got a kick out of it.”
The priests enjoyed sharing a bit on how they prepared for the game with Father Gamalo saying “…There’s some prayers involved,” especially since the priests didn’t have the opportunity to practice beforehand. Listening to upbeat music and watching NBA games on television also helped to motivate Father Gamalo and Father Abadilla give their all to the game.
Father Gaudio smiled as he shared how he thought the goal of the game was to show students that priests “are not all 70 years old” and can be everyday men who like sports.
“I would like to think there was a young man in today’s crowd who might be thinking of a vocation to the priesthood, and our appearance at the game got him thinking about it even more,” said Father Gaudio, who used to play basketball for Bound Brook High School and for intramurals in St. Bonaventure University.
Father Vala said he hoped that through activities such as sports or music, the students can get to know a priest and share a friendship with him. And through that friendship he hoped students would feel comfortable approaching a priest when thinking about the priesthood as a vocation.
“The priesthood is a vocation to serve God, and in doing so you touch the lives of others when you reach out to them and make a positive difference in their lives,” Father Vala said.
“When I embraced my Catholic faith in a serious and responsible way, I found meaning and purpose,” he said, and being a priest has “brought me the joy and happiness that I sought in my life.”
After the game, SJV senior and player James Guilbert said he thought the game allowed the SJV community to “see a different aspect of priests lives and that they live normal lives, too.”