For as long as I can remember, I have always associated March with basketball. I recognize that liturgically speaking, I should be more focused on Lent and the upcoming Triduum, but it’s just how I’m hardwired. Sitting at home and watching some of the great and unexpected tournament runs over the years has been such an important and joyful part of my life. Who doesn’t get pumped when something unexpected takes place? Learning new schools. Watching the players triumphantly hold the team names emblazoned on their jersey for all to read. “One Shining Moment” after the Championship Game. Let the madness begin!
When I look at my personal calendar and read “Leave for the Big East Tourney” and “NCAA Tournament,” I have to pinch myself just to make sure it’s real. If you had told me that I would one day travel with the Notre Dame Men’s Basketball Team when I was applying to the seminary in the fall of 1999, I would have probably written my essays with less anxiety and more hustle.
A quick set of guesses could elicit some pretty probable reasons for why I love this role: travel, fun basketball venues, gear, and the notoriety that comes from sitting at the end of the bench. These are all solid observations and ones that certainly crossed my mind when I was first asked to serve in this capacity. However, here are a few that I’ve discovered over the past couple years.
First, the players are so fun to be around. The best way to explain how they interact with one another is as brothers. To the average basketball fan, you turn on the game and then turn it off when the final horn blows. You might log in to UND.com and watch some behind-the-scenes footage (including this video about Fr. Pete and his work with the team), but it will never really demonstrate the commitment the guys have made to one another.
They practice day in and day out, make sacrifices for the betterment of the team, certainly enjoy a few good laughs together, and support one another when times are tough. The conversations can vary from what did you think of DeAndre Jordan’s dunk over Brandon Knight (as a Piston fan, it makes me wince) to what does the Church mean when we talk about Divine Mercy? Within this band of brothers, there is continual growth and development: basketball players becoming men, student athletes learning how to balance both realities.
Second, the coaching staff sees themselves as educators. People know Coach Brey’s name and can list some of his incredible accomplishments over the years (13-year tenure at ND, 3-time Big East Coach of the Year, AP Coach of the Year, etc.), but what people sometimes miss is his role as an educator of these young men. Not only does Coach Brey see himself in this capacity, but so do his assistants (Anthony Solomon, Rod Balanis and Martin Ingelsby).
While the classroom consists of squeaking sneakers, basketballs, and 94-foot wooden court, lessons on hard work, dedication, perseverance, and communication are presented each day. These lessons take time! It takes the heart of a great educator to see the potential in a student athlete and know when to push and when to hold back. It takes the mind of a great educator to know how to communicate a message so that it has the greatest impact in the person’s life. We are lucky to have this philosophy here at Notre Dame.
What I love most about serving as the chaplain to the Notre Dame Men’s Basketball Team is that I’m able to witness the Holy Cross charism being lived out in the setting of a high profile basketball program. Family and education, two themes that run through the heart of Blessed Basil Moreau’s pedagogy continue to make a difference in people’s lives today.
Fr. Pete McCormick, C.S.C., professed Final Vows in the Congregation of Holy Cross on August 26, 2006 and was ordained a priest on April 14, 2007! Since his ordination, he has served as the Rector of Keough Hall at the University of Notre Dame and worked in Campus Ministry. For the past two years, he has also served as chaplain to the university’s Men’s Basketball Team. Learn more about Fr. Pete’s work with the team in this video done by the Athletic Department.