"In the name of the father, son and holy spirit let's play ball."
With that inspirational message from seminarian Christopher Ballard, the annual 'Men in Black' basketball game packed the St. Joseph's gymnasium Friday night in Camillus as parishioners from throughout the Syracuse area came out to watch local priests and seminarians go toe-to-toe with CYO basketball teams to raise awareness of the priesthood.
Father Joe O'Connor, director of Vocation Promotion for the Syracuse Diocese and coordinator of the game, said the event is a fun way to remind young men that the Catholic priesthood is a fun and healthy vocational option.
"It's my job to get young men to think about the priesthood," O'Connor said. A task often considered challenging, O'Connor said his perception is different: "I am creating a culture of vocational awareness and support," he explained.
The church is well aware of the dropping numbers - in it's most recent study, Georgetown's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate found in 2008 there were 40,580 thousand priests in America, down from 58,632 in 1965. But O'Connor said it's quality, not quantity, that counts.
"Although it's harder to have fewer (men interested in the priesthood), there is something exciting about it," he said, noting that those who do make the commitment to the seminary and Catholic church are more likely to stick with it.
And with events like the MIB game, both men eligible for the priesthood and their families are afforded a more in-depth look into the lives of priests.
Among the MIB stars was Baldwinsville's Chris Ballard, 25, currently studying at St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore. Ballard's grandmother, Arlene Luckette, was at the game along with extended family to cheer Ballard on. Luckette said her grandson announced at the age of 14 that he was being called to the priesthood, a decision he pursued directly after graduating Baker High School. Ballard will be fully ordained in June 2010 and begin service in the Syracuse Diocese.