Diocesan seminarian is chaplain of NCAA basketball tournament’s Mount St. Mary’s
INDIANAPOLIS — When the 2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball tournament begins late Thursday afternoon, the very first game will feature a seminarian who is just two months away from being ordained as a priest of the Diocese of Peoria.
No, Deacon Austin Bosse won’t be shooting 3-point shots or making soaring dunks. But he is a vital and senior member of the Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers, winners of the Northeast Conference tournament and a No. 16 seed in the tournament’s East Regional. They play Texas Southern, also a No. 16 seed, in a “First Four” play-in game at 4:10 p.m. on March 18.
Deacon Bosse is the Mountaineers’ basketball team chaplain.
It’s a role Deacon Bosse has filled since the fall of 2016, when he was just a second year pre-theology student. The following spring, the team also qualified for the national tournament, known as “March Madness.”
“I always remind the coaches that while I’m not saying there’s a causation, there’s definitely a correlation with me being with the team and us going to the tournament,” Deacon Bosse told The Catholic Post with a chuckle on March 16. He had just returned to the team hotel from Indiana University in Bloomington, the site of the Mountaineers’ opening game.
Because of COVID-19, this year’s tournament is being played entirely in the Indianapolis area to reduce travel for the 68 teams involved.
“I am in the ‘bubble’ of Indianapolis,” said Deacon Bosse, noting the strict restrictions in place for athletes, coaches . . . and chaplains.
FORMING THE WHOLE PERSON
Mount St. Mary’s University is a Catholic institution located in Emmitsburg, Maryland, with an enrollment of more than 2,000 students. The campus includes Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, among the largest in the United States and where Deacon Bosse and 13 other seminarians of the Diocese of Peoria are preparing for the priesthood.
The university has 26 sports teams and, in a unique relationship with the seminary, all have chaplains who are seminarians. In addition to Deacon Bosse, other Peoria seminarians now serving as sports chaplains include Deacon Nic Wilson — who will also be ordained to the priesthood on May 29 — as women’s bowling team chaplain; Jacob Martini (baseball); Pat Wille (golf); Daniel Dionesotes (track and field); and Nic Conner (tennis).
“We talk about the formation of the whole person,” said Deacon Bosse of the chaplains’ role. Coaches help the student athletes improve in their sport, strength coaches help their bodies get stronger, and tutors assist their academic pursuits.
Chaplains, meanwhile, are present “to help them spiritually, because that’s an aspect of their life and if it’s not in order, they’re not going to be as good as they can be — as a human being or a player,” said Deacon Bosse, noting the team chaplains also minister to the coaches and athletic training staffs.
“A GRITTY TEAM”
He described the basketball Mountaineers, which sport a record of 12-10, as “a gritty team” with tall, talented athletes.
“Even if they’re down, they will fight to the very end,” said Deacon Bosse.
That perseverance helped Mount St. Mary’s through a season with its share of adversity, including the departure of three players and two lockdowns because of COVID-19.
“These guys have experienced isolation, and working through this type of adversity has made them stronger,” said Deacon Bosse. “None of our players are so good to be able to win a game by themselves, but man, when they play together as a team they are really hard to beat.”
Deacon Bosse was raised in Kansas and played high school basketball as a senior. His mother Rosie described his style of play as “a bull in the china closet.”
“I was basically playing football on the hardwood,” recalls Deacon Bosse. “I was a bruiser and it wasn’t pretty.”
But he has always enjoyed college basketball. “I love the raw talent still being developed at the college level,” he said.
Deacon Bosse, who entered the seminary after graduating with a degree in bakery science from Kansas State University and working for a time with the Frito-Lay corporation, knows the college years are also key in spiritual formation. He described the team chaplain’s role as a “ministry of presence,” and it’s a lesson he will take to his priestly assignments.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to be with college students as they try to navigate the faith and all these new ideas coming at them and new freedoms,” said Deacon Bosse.
“One thing I’ve learned from this group is that when you make yourself available, they are open and willing to have you be a part of their life. They begin to trust you.” — Deacon Bosse
“Sometimes people just need a priest to be present for them,” he continued. “One thing I’ve learned from this group is that when you make yourself available, they are open and willing to have you be a part of their life. They begin to trust you.” As a priest he will hope to be a familiar face in the community he serves, adding he is “excited and terrified” about the awesome duties of the priesthood awaiting him, including celebrating Mass and hearing confessions.
One of the ways he is present to the Mountaineers is by leading a team prayer after each game “to give thanks, win or lose, that we get to play this great game.”
AN ILLINI FAN AS WELL
Should Mount St. Mary’s win on Thursday, next up would be one of the tournament’s top teams, the University of Michigan. But however far the Mountaineers go, Deacon Bosse has a second favorite team with high hopes — the University of Illinois, the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region.
“I’m really happy to see the success they’re having,” he said of the Fighting Illini. Deacon Bosse became a member of St. Matthew Parish in Champaign when he moved to Illinois, and is close friends with fellow Kansas natives and parishioners Joey and Michelle Biggs. Joey is assistant athletic director for basketball at Illinois, while Michelle is principal of St. Matthew School.
In his final semester at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Deacon Bosse is not only taking a full course load of classes, he is preaching every weekend at a nearby parish and occasionally presides at baptisms. When Mount St. Mary’s qualified for the NCAA tournament, he had to tell his pastor he would be out of town this weekend.
“He was OK, considering where I was headed,” he said.