At first glance, the basketball tournament held in the gym at Mundelein Seminary the weekend of Jan. 29 looked like any other amateur men’s league, but there was one difference — all the players were discerning a call to the priesthood. They were taking part in the 21st annual Father Pat O’Malley Invitational, a tournament for teams from seminaries around the country. This year eight teams from eight states participated. In 2013, the tournament was named in honor of Father Pat O’Malley, a retired Chicago priest and former Chicago Catholic columnist who served as a spiritual director at the seminary. O’Malley was an avid sports fan and attended all of the tournament games. There is a spiritual and social aspect to the tournament as well, with the teams kneeling in prayer together after each game, celebrating Mass together and having both an ice cream and a pizza social, traditions that date back to the first tournament in 2000, along with the live pep band. The Knights of Columbus provide the financial support for Mundelein to host the tournament and the seminaries pay their own way there. The Knights have supported the event since its inception, helping to pay for a scoreboard and repairs to the gym. This year, the tournament expanded to the gym across the street from USML’s entrance at Carmel Catholic High School. All the games were livestreamed and deacon-seminarians organized the event. Mundelein’s mascot, Larry the Laker, also put in an appearance at tournament. Larry the deer represents the many deer found on the woody campus. Participating seminaries included: Mundelein; St. Joseph Seminary, St. Benedict, Louisiana; St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, Denver; Conception Seminary College, Conception, Missouri; Bishop Simon Brute College Seminary, Indianapolis; St. Francis de Sales Seminary, St. Francis, Wisconsin; St. Mary’s Seminary, Houston; and Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Cincinnati. It is one of several seminary basketball tournaments hosted around the country. “I’ve always been a huge fan of the weekend,” said Deacon Daniel Korenchan, who will be ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Chicago in May and who served as this year’s coordinator. The tournament was canceled because of COVID-19 in 2021 and 2022, so the seminarians were happy to have it back this year. “When I heard that we needed someone to take on the tournament I was thrilled because most of the guys here have never seen the tournament,” Korenchan said. “The deacons have done a wonderful job of just taking over the various roles and jobs.” Korenchan played trumpet in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign marching band and also in the basketball band. “Basketball games and the environment of college games has always been something really exciting,” he said. “So when I came to my first tournament here and saw how, even on a smaller scale, we as seminaries can replicate that, that was really incredible. I wanted guys to be able to see that we can play and be competitive but we can also share great fraternity time together amongst all the seminaries as well as really great time of prayer together as well.” Vincentian Father Jim Swift accompanied the team from St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston. He is a member of the formation faculty and serves as a resident spiritual director there. The Houston seminary, which has been represented at the O’Malley Invitational before, brought 12 seminarians who have been training regularly for this and other tournaments. “I think they really enjoy getting to see seminarians from other seminaries around the country,” Swift said. “It’s really good bonding. And actually there’s kind of a spirituality around basketball that they bring through it all.” Father Jake Beltran, vice rector of Mundelein Seminary and an active member of the U.S. Navy Reserve, delivered the invocation during the opening ceremony. He first attended the basketball tournaments when he was assigned to USML from 2001 to 2012. “I’m a big fan of Father Pat O’Mally’s basketball tournament,” he said. “It’s so cool to be able to invite all the different seminaries and have time to play basketball, and have fraternity and also deepening their vocations.” Beltran knew O’Malley. “He was a holy priest who loved his priesthood,” Beltran recalled. “He loved to serve God’s people and I think this is a good reflection of his love for the church and love for priestly vocation.” The tournament also highlights the spiritual side to sports, he said. “I think holiness means wholeness, to be whole,” Beltran said. “I think everything comes together — sports, spirituality, our intellectual life, our human life, our pastoral life, spiritual life. Certainly playing sports is an important part of that holiness.” St. Joseph Seminary College defeated St. Francis de Sales in the championship game. Mundelein did not advance to the championship bracket.