Spaghetti Bowl: Fitness, camaraderie part of U.S. seminary life in Rome

IMAGE: CNS/Robert Duncan

By Matthew Fowler

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — A seminary is not typically known for
its emphasis on physical activity and fitness, but many seminarians see it as
an integral part of daily life.

Andrew Auer, Joseph Caraway and his cousin, Michael Caraway,
are just a few of the seminarians at the Pontifical North American College in
Rome who find value in sports and physical activity.

Priests need energy to serve their people, so “we need
to have bodies that are prepared for it,” said Auer, a seminarian from the
Archdiocese of St. Louis. “We have our gym always available just to stay
healthy to be able to serve, which is really the end goal.”

The North American College, which is sponsored by the U.S.
bishops, educates students from the United States and Australia who are
preparing for the priesthood.

“The Catholic Church is a real supporter of both body
and soul,” said Joseph Caraway, a seminarian from the Diocese of Lake
Charles in Louisiana, who did graduate studies in exercise physiology before
entering the seminary. “Sometimes we can get so caught up in focusing on
the soul and our prayer, which is incredibly important, but we also need to
take care of our physical bodies.”

The seminary stresses the importance of building a
“deeply unified community,” its website says, and one way the
students achieve that is through sports.

With his experience and background in graduate school, Joseph
Caraway has found some very concrete ways to help his brother seminarians,
developing “diet programs and exercise programs to help them become more
physically fit and just learn how to exercise correctly.”

Sports and physical activity are not simply fun and games. In
fact, Vatican guidelines for priestly formation stress the importance of
helping seminarians live a healthy life.

“The Gift of the Priestly Vocation,” released by
the Congregation for Clergy in December 2016, says that seminarians should dedicate
time to physical exercise and sports to “attain the solid physical,
psycho-affective and social maturity required of a pastor.”

Michael Caraway, also a seminarian for Lake Charles, said,
“Being a seminarian, being a priest, we’re all about being the best human
being you can be and that’s definitely always going to involve the physical
aspect as well, because if we don’t take care of ourselves, typically you’re not
as happy, as healthy, holy a human being.”

Camaraderie and teamwork also are key elements in seminary
life that benefit from the college’s sports offerings.

“Sports bring everybody together,” said Joseph
Caraway. “I was never much of a soccer player, but you get out on the
field and your brothers are there to help you out. You’re struggling, you don’t
know how to play, but they’re there to teach you and help you grow.”

The college has a large turf field, which is home to Ultimate
Frisbee, soccer, football and softball matches. Just beside it sits a
basketball court, which is directly in front of the state-of-the-art gymnasium
inaugurated in the spring.

“It’s been a really great resource for guys to come
together as a community and to exercise their bodies and really prepare for the
days ahead,” Auer said about the new gym.

Offering the seminarians so many opportunities to play the
sports they grew up with also can help them feel at home as they adjust to
student life in a foreign land.

Events such as the Spaghetti Bowl, which is held every year at
Thanksgiving time, give the men a renewed sense of the familiar after being
thrust into the unfamiliar culture of Rome.

“The Spaghetti Bowl is a long-standing tradition at the
North American College,” said Auer. “It’s a big culminating event on
Thanksgiving weekend that we do to bring everybody together, especially when
it’s the first holiday away from home” for first-year students. “It
can be one of those things to focus on the community here and not so much on
what you’re missing at home.”

The Spaghetti Bowl is a flag football game between the
first-year men and the rest of the college, and serves to help integrate
students into the daily life of the seminary, Michael Caraway said.

“I got to know so many of my classmates and brothers in
the house so much better because I was out there working with them,” training
for the game, he said. “It’s just a good, natural way to get to know some
of the guys and build community.”

A balanced sports life at the seminary also shows there are
greater values at play, values that go beyond childhood dreams of a professional
all-star career and money.

“You reach a certain age when you’re not going pro, and
you realize there’s something more than just the game that’s being
played,” Auer said. Amateur sports provide “a place where I can go
and grow in friendship and virtue with encouragement and support from my

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Matthew Fowler, a student at Villanova University, is an
intern at the CNS Rome bureau.

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