ROME — As excitement surrounding Super Bowl XLIX continues to build in the United States, American seminarians studying for priesthood in Rome are also preparing to enjoy the Great Game.
A student-organized kickoff party is in the works, featuring easy chairs, one big-screen TV, and what’s being described as “moderate” consumption of beer. It’s part of the festivities at the North American College (NAC) in Rome, the residence for American seminarians in Rome that counts scores of bishops among its alumni.
Amidst final exams, and with a start time long after midnight on a school night, hard-core football fans at the NAC will stay up as late as 5 a.m. on Monday to watch the final play of the Super Bowl, which is scheduled to start 30 minutes after midnight in Italy.
“You never know what might happen, so you have to stay up,” said the Rev. Edward Maxfield Jr., a New England Patriots fan who’s currently at the NAC.
Maxfield says that with Tom Brady as quarterback, who’s “been able to orchestrate some miracles in the past,” no result will be set on stone until the last ride.
Ordained last May, Maxfield was born in New England. Like “every child of the military,” however, he’s lived all over the place, which is why he came to the NAC as seminarian for the diocese of Steubenville, Ohio.
His support for the Patriots, however, never changed.
“As a kid in the military, you acquire these things quickly and you stand by them no matter what,” Maxfield told Crux. “That’s why I stood with my New England teams no matter where we were.”
For Deacon Matthew Fish, a lifelong fan of the Seattle Seahawks, staying up to watch the game isn’t optional either, and it won’t be the first time a sports event keeps him up.
Just as Maxfield stayed up a few years back for the “unfortunate” Big Game against the Giants, Fish didn’t miss a minute of the Seahawks in the NFC championship and the Super Bowl last year.
“After a lifetime of watching Seattle teams lose in the playoffs — I was born in ’79 and so missed the Supersonics’ only championship in ’78-’79 — it was the greatest night of watching sports in my life, and totally worth the loss of sleep,” said Fish.
For the future priest, who’ll be ordained June 20 in Washington, DC, watching the game with his fellow seminarians will be a bittersweet moment, since sports have always been a family event for him. Following the Seahawks is a way to stay connected to those back home, but he said he’ll miss the feeling of celebration and excitement, usually accompanied with high-fives and hugs.
“I’ll also miss being able to share our lifetime of Seahawks memories through references and comments that only Seattle fans can get, as well as all the times we’ve shared watching Seattle sports over the years,” he said.
For Fish, watching the Seahawks goes beyond mere spectacle; he’s also impressed by the openness with which the players talk about their Christian faith.
“Following the Seahawks helps me appreciate the values they are learning and the virtues they are acquiring, insofar as sport serves as a great analogy for the game of life,” he said.
Fish believes that players offer valuable lessons to people of all ages, including seminarians, about what it means to set goals, work toward them with effort, sacrifice, and teamwork, and ultimately how to put all that in the greater perspective of life as Christians.
“Having trust in your teammates, belief in oneself and one’s team against obstacles and criticism, and ultimately trusting in God’s providence and living for his glory are things that the Seahawks players often speak about on Twitter and in interviews, and they offer valuable lessons,” said Fish, who played high school football and college rugby, and was later a rugby coach at DeMatha Catholic High School in DC.
Maxfield and Fish will watch the game together, surrounded by both tepid fans and lovers of the game. Despite the high number of New Englanders and Seattle natives currently living at the NAC, none seem as interested as those two in the game, and many have exams on Mondays.
Faculty members might also join them in the student lounge, a big room that can accommodate some 50 or 60 men. There will be no raised eyebrows over curfew-breaking: as long as they are inside the NAC, the seminarians are responsible for their own actions.
“But,” said Maxfield, “there’s the expectation that if you want to stay up to watch a game, that’s fine, but whatever it is you’re responsible for the next day still has to get done, one way or another.”