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Home : Faith/Spirituality : Living Faith
11/21/2012 9:43:00 AM
Priestly formation includes exercise
Mount Angel Abbey photo
Juan Soria, studying for the Saint John’s Society, plays racquetball.
Mount Angel Abbey photo
Juan Soria, studying for the Saint John’s Society, plays racquetball.
Daniel Miller

A goal! Cheers and high fives follow with the usual congratulatory words. But this goal pleads to be commemorated.

A shout rises. Everyone turns. A fan, uninhibited, races down the sideline, yellow-and-white Vatican flag draped over his shoulders and rippling behind him amid his own roars of glee. Players glance and grin. That’s more like it. The celebration is on.

Mount Angel Seminary, three. Reed College, zero.

For the soccer team and their supporters at Mount Angel Seminary, this home victory on Oct. 7 highlighted the sports calendar. The fan, Phillip Shifflet, a seminarian from the Diocese of Orange, Calif., relished the victory as much as the players.

“Even the refs were smiling,” Shifflet said. “Even if I don’t play soccer, the fact that I’m there and cheering them on, that somebody cares and is there to support them, that’s one of the many reasons I go down to the soccer field.”

The soccer team had not won in two years, said Joshua Keeney, a former coach, current player, and seminarian for the Diocese of Sacramento, Calif. Competitive disadvantages for Mount Angel are apparent: A smaller pool of student athletes, limited facilities, and a demanding academic and spiritual schedule not present at other institutions. Winning is rare for Mount Angel athletics, but formation in virtue is not.

“Sports offer opportunities to grow in community,” volleyball coach and Diocese of Honolulu seminarian Frank Villanueva said. “They are an avenue for men here to express themselves in healthy ways outside of the academic and spiritual aspects of the seminary. Sports enhance those opportunities.”

Winning makes for memories, as with Shifflet and the soccer team, but whether an outing ends in victory or defeat, lessons can be cultivated in patience, courage, compassion, forgiveness, and virtue, Dr. Andrew Cummings said.

Cummings is the Athletic Director and a player on the soccer team. As such, he oversees the small athletic budget, maintains facilities, and acts as an advocate for the student coaches in soccer, basketball, and volleyball, the newest team sport.

Sports among the Mount Angel hilltop community include less celebrated pastimes, too –table tennis on Friday afternoons always draws a crowd, for example. Diocese of Helena seminarians Alex Woelkers and Jacob Floch are aiming to complete a marathon in November, and seven seminarians ran the Mount Angel Oktoberfest 5- and 10-kilometer races in September. Other favorite seminarian activities include aikido, weight lifting, racquetball, cycling, tennis, pool, and the workout series P90X.

Hiking appeals to many. Fr. Ralph Recker, OSB, leads weekend hikes to Saddle Mountain, Table Rock, and nearby peaks. The reward for tired legs comes from vivid celebrations of the Mass overlooking the serene Cascade Mountain Range.

“One of my favorite sports moments is praying on top of a summit,” Fr. Recker said. “Especially if you have someone who didn’t think they’d make it initially. There is a feeling of conquest.”

The value of Mount Angel sports goes beyond athletes to fans and the greater Hilltop fraternity, celebrating together conquests large and small, in virtue and in competition.

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