Thanksgiving weekend at the North American College in Rome is full of traditions not normally found in Italy. Besides a classic turkey dinner and pumpkin pie, the seminarians at the college host their traditional “Spaghetti Bowl.”
This year on Dec. 1, the entire college and its guests gathered to watch the “New Men vs. Old Men” match. First-year seminarians faced off against a team comprised of students from every other class at the seminary.
“New year guys take on the whole rest of the house, so obviously it’s not quite a ‘fair’ thing,” Fr. Peter Harman, director of pastoral formation and media relations, explained to CNA, “but it is a fraternity-building thing, and opportunity for them to bind as a class.”
Each team was comprised of roughly 30 men, who elected student coaches to lead them.
“It’s all in good fun, but they take it seriously: they practice, they come up with plays, there’s a lot of stuff that goes on in preparation – it’s not just a scrimmage. They’ve been practicing for weeks and weeks,” said Fr. Harman.
The annual post-Thanksgiving football game is part of a long weekend of festivities.
Seminarian Michael Dion of the Archdiocese of Seattle explained, “We’re gone from home at Thanksgiving, and so the whole weekend is filled with events to build the community spirit.” Everything from the meal to the football match makes it “a little bit easier.”
After the typical Thanksgiving dinner, the entire college is able to enjoy pumpkin pie made by the 5th year priests of the college. “That’s a big deal because that’s not something you can find in Italy,” noted Dion.
Fr. Harman shared Dion’s enthusiasm: the college hosts an American-style barbeque during the football game “to bring American kind of things right to the middle of these guys who are far from home for Thanksgiving.”
The college also puts on a “New Man / Old Man show” on Friday evening, so that, according to the college’s rector, Msgr. James Checchio, “everyone really gets to show their talents, whatever they are.”
The college’s annual football game has been going on longer than most faculty and staff members can remember. Msgr. Checchio, Fr. Harman, and many of the other faculty played in the match when they were students at the college.
Times have changed a bit, however. Msgr. Checchio recalled that in his day, “everyone had to play, whether they were good or not,” because there were only about 30 men in a class.
This year’s “new man” team has its choice from any of the 64 newcomers.
The rector noted that the annual game sees “new men really pull together.”
“It’s a great opportunity for them to learn to work together, (build) patience, fraternity, a chance to recognize one another’s skills, build one another up, help one another… skills that a priest needs in his parish, working together with other priests and laity.”
Msgr. Checchio is the former chaplain for the Philadelphia Eagles. He described sports as an important “opportunity to work together for teamwork: it’s not all about ‘me,’ it’s about all of us moving together.”
“And the Church is certainly like that too,” he continued. “Our efforts as priests aren’t just for me – they are for the benefit of the Church, (to) help us think of others. So this is one small opportunity for us to do that, in a different way, but pulling together to work together.”
Moreover, the rector added, “sometimes people have an image of the priesthood” that doesn’t “relate to reality.”
He gestured to the field full of seminarians in athletic gear who warmed up as music pumped from the loud speakers.
“They are men, answering the call, striving to serve the Lord with all their heart, soul, and strength, but they’re like everybody else, their colleagues at home.”
“Their focus, obviously, is giving themselves to the Church, but they still do a lot of regular things just like anybody else: sports is one of them.”
“Besides being formative,” he added with a smile, “it’s a lot of fun!”