Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 13, 1999
High school fuses basketball and faith
By LELLA BLUMER
Special to the WCR
It's not often you hear missionaries and basketball mentioned in the same breath.
But at St. Francis Xavier High School in Edmonton, the two come together once a year during the Mike Dea Classic basketball tournament, held to coincide with the feast day of the school's patron saint, Dec. 3.
Eugenia Chisotti, head of the religious education department at St. FX, says the school has a strong tradition, dating back to 1973, of celebrating the Jesuit missionary's feast day. So, when the staff and students decided to host an annual provincial basketball tournament, they thought it would be a good idea to tie the two events together.
"When we look back at St. Francis Xavier's life as a missionary, we thought it was appropriate - we thought (the tournament) would be a good opportunity to bring our faith to others," Chisotti says.
The day becomes not only a chance for students and staff to celebrate, but also to share their faith with students from other schools, she adds.
This year, 11 teams from across Alberta and one from Regina took part in the Dec. 2-4 tournament, including a special Mass at Annunciation Church celebrated by Archbishop Thomas Collins.
For St. FX team members Alex Sneazwell and Sean McElwain, the Mass and feast day activities helped set a positive tone for the tournament.
"There's a real sense of camaraderie here, and it's great to build on that," says Sneazwell.
It was "neat" to have the archbishop at the Mass, McElwain adds. "Everyone liked that."
And although other teams weren't mandated to attend the Mass, as St. FX students were, the coach of Eastglen High School said his team wouldn't have missed it.
"There's no question we would come," says Narindar Riar, even though the Mass was at 8:30 a.m. and his team didn't have a game until 8 p.m.
"It's part of the tournament, and when we participate in the tournament, we participate in all the events."
Riar says he found the archbishop's message relevant, "not only to life in general, but also to what I try to get across to the team, especially in terms of helping each other out."
During his homily, Collins encouraged the hundreds of students crowded into the church not to be "inert."
"We have to be alert, to know and notice the needs of those around us."
Just as St. Francis Xavier was dedicated to bringing the word to the farthest corners of the world, we need to make Christ present to others, Collins said.
"Our life is like an arrow shooting for a target - it has direction; it has purpose. That purpose comes from being the hands of Christ."
And although each of us has a call that is unique, we need to come together to celebrate the Mass regularly, in order to be able to live out our call.
"We don't come here (to church) to stay. We come to be strengthened, to go and be a presence in the world, then come back again, because we need the light of God in our lives."
Before the Mass, the archbishop brought his vestments to the front of the church, and explained their significance as he put them on.
"Our robes speak to us of our tradition," he told the attentive crowd. "It's good to have a sense of what they mean, of our roots and our ties to the past."
Explaining that the bishop's mitre is intended to signify a flame of faith, he joked "I recommend each of you get a mitre, at least a virtual one, because every one of us needs a flame of fire over our heads."
We each could carry a staff as well, he added, "because each one of us has a responsibility for others: our brothers, sisters, parents, children, or friends. We're never here just for ourselves."
Edmonton Catholic Schools superintendent Dale Ripley said after the Mass that St. FX "has always done a great job" of celebrating its feast day and tying school life to Church life. Ripley said he recalled the tradition from his teaching days at the school 14 years ago.
Chisotti agrees staff and students spend a lot of time in the classroom discussing St. Francis Xavier's life. They are not only knowledgeable about their patron saint, but proud of sharing his life story with others. The basketball tournament is "another way of getting the message out there," she adds.
The tournament is named for long-time teacher and coach Mike Dea, who served as head of the religious education department at St. FX from 1969-96.