For seminarians, Thanksgiving a time of building fraternal bond

ROME — Under a cloudless sky with the lingering smell of barbequed hamburgers and the NFL theme song radiating from loudspeakers, young men lace up their sneakers for an old-fashioned football game. No, it is not a scene from the backyard of a fraternity house at a U.S. college in mid-September but rather a scene from a different kind of fraternity.

On the Sunday of every Thanksgiving weekend, seminarians from the Pontifical North American College in Rome, known as the NAC, trade in their clerics for flags and compete in the Spaghetti Bowl, a flag football game between the first year seminarians, or “new men” and seminarians from the three upper classes or “old men.”

U.S. seminarians in Rome play in the Spaghetti Bowl (PNACPHOTO/Brian Buettner)

The game, which was first played in 1953, not only signifies the culmination of the weekend but serves as a chance for the new men to earn the respect of the old men through friendly competition. The teams begin practicing weeks before the game, elect other seminarians as coaches and even have a fifth-year priest serve as a chaplain for the team.

Valuable bragging rights emerge from the game, prompting both the old men and the new men to take the competition very seriously. This year, the new men even designed their own shirts.

Earning respect, however, is not the only outcome of both this competition and the entire weekend. During Thanksgiving, many seminarians, especially first year men, experience homesickness since it is often the first time they will celebrate the holiday without their families. The seminarians organize various activities including preparing meals with one another, Thanksgiving Mass followed by a banquet, a skit organized and performed by both the old men and new men and, finally, the Spaghetti Bowl.

Before the game, Josh Laws, a second year seminarian reminisced about his experience as a first year seminarian last Thanksgiving, and he drew parallels between Thanksgiving at the NAC and his Thanksgivings at home.

“As a first year (seminarian), it was the first time I started to feel at home at the seminary since there are so many activities that bring us together. Since I love sports and competition,the Spaghetti Bowl is my favorite activity. But I also enjoy preparing breakfast on Thanksgiving morning with my entire hall since it reminds me of Thanksgiving morning back home when all my relatives would trickle into our house at various times,” he said.

The weekend activities highlight that the men have joined a new family, one consisting of their brother seminarians who are all traveling on the same journey. From planning the skit and practicing for the Spaghetti Bowl to sharing Thanksgiving dinner together, the seminarians further strengthen the foundation of the fraternity.

“When you enter the priesthood you understand that you are giving up having a family of your own, and one of the most important things to consider is building a family with your brother seminarians,” first year seminarian Joey Farrell said.

As the seminarians transition from new men to old men, the old men use this weekend as an opportunity to share past experiences and provide guidance for the first year seminarians while the new men gain a further sense of belonging at the seminary.

“The old men and faculty have been gracious from day one here at the NAC and no doubt when I am one of the old men I can pay those gifts forward to the new men entering the seminary. This entire weekend is an example of the domino effect of Christian hospitality that is embedded in the heart of the NAC,” Farrell explained.

Despite the old men claiming victory over the new men for the twelfth straight year, seminarians from both sides gathered at the center of the field to forge their brotherly bond through prayer and thanksgiving, signifying the deeper meaning of Thanksgiving for both the seminarians and Americans alike.

7 Responses

  1. It sounds just like the fraternity-boy bonding rituals and self-congratulatory indulgence that are familiar from any college campus in the United States. It’s revealing that the core of their bonding is in the actual or implied physical brutality of a football game rather than, say, 40 Hours’ Eucharistic Adoration or cooking a Thanksgiving dinner for the destitute in Rome. At least it shows what they consider most meaningful and enjoyable. Is this how the apostles and disciples behaved with Jesus, the Lamb of God and Prince of Peace?

  2. Did they bond with beer pong too?

  3. Very amateurish writing and coverage.

  4. That’s an interesting perspective. The men of the North American College left their families to follow God’s call. They try to maintain some sense of normalcy in the process by engaging in healthy social activities.

    They spend countless hours each week serving the poor and destitute, balancing this with studying and praying (including a daily holy hour, Mass, and Liturgy of the Hours) in order to bring Christ to the people of the United States.

    Before ever engaging the fun of the weekend, they gathered to bury one of their own. An elderly priest who had devoted his life to the training of future priests and finally died while serving the seminary at the age of 81.

    The purpose of this article was to show how the men celebrate Thanksgiving. Further, the poor in Rome do not celebrate Thanksgiving since that is an American holiday.

    There are probably many things that the men in Rome can do to improve their service to Christ, but that is the same for every Christian including you. So why not work on that, rather than nitpick an good article about seminarian life.

  5. Great article and well written about a dedicated group of people doing God’s will.

  6. Is this one of the reasons why women cannot be ordained priests? (Opps, how sexist of me: implying that women could not compete equally with men in a game of friendly flag football!)

  7. Full disclosure: I’m a seminarian going to seminary in the states.

    Building fraternity with other seminarians is less like a college drinking party and more like joining the military. We are going to war with Satan himself, following Christ as our general, on behalf of the Church and the People of God. So that we can focus entirely on this task, we are not given the consolation of a family or a normal 9-5 life. Thankfully, there are other men called to our same trenches, and, like a cohesive military unit, we have to learn to rely on these men for support, safety, and a level of understanding that others outside the priesthood cannot fully provide. Seminarian/priestly community necessarily preceeds the work of ordained ministry because it is one of the principle ways in which Christ helps us to carry the burden of that ministry. We of course build community through prayer, service, and study as well, but healthy fraternity, like a healthy person, would be incomplete without a social aspect.

    Anyway, I just wanted to offer an insider perspective. I think this article does a lovely job of capturing the efforts of the NAC seminarians at building a healthy level of fraternity, and I was certainly uplifted to read it. Thanks for giving us an inside look!

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