Called from the basketball court to the altar
by Father Bruce-John Hamilton
I was born on November 14, 1959 in the city of Sudbury Ontario and raised 20 miles north in a small town of about 3,000 people called Capreol. I come from a family of five: four boys and one girl. In brief I would describe my upbringing as normal. My mother was Catholic and my father, Protestant. I attended Catholic school from Kindergarten through to Grade 8 and then went to the public high school from Grades 9-12. My life began to take a marked change (although this was unbeknownst to me at this time) when I decided to attend Sudbury High for Grade 13 in order to play on the High School basketball team – a sport that by this time I was totally devoted to.
The year at Sudbury High led me to consider going to University in order to play more basketball, and school was, at that time, a secondary issue. My first choice was to attend the University of Victoria due to the fact that Ken Shields – the former Laurentian University (Sudbury) basketball coach – was now coaching there. After inquiries with Mr. Shields it was decided that it would not be the best thing for me to attend that University. Instead, I decided to attend the University of Saskatoon where one of Mr. Shield’s star university basketball players at Laurentian was coaching at the time. His name was Guy Vetrie. In retrospect this move, like all the others, was providential. It was my first move away from home and I began to do a great deal of thinking. While living in Saskatoon, I was not going to Church on a regular basis, but I was beginning to reflect on my life. I began to understand the many blessings that God had bestowed upon me, in particular, my family – which had gone through its challenging times. While this did not a first lead to a radical conversion in my life, it did lead me to buy my first Catechism: The Teaching of Christ. I read this book with great hunger and it began to trigger even more thoughts about God and my Catholic faith.
After the year in Saskatoon I moved to Victoria to join the University of Victoria Vikings. This was, in many ways a difficult transition for me, as I had been used to playing almost 35-38 minutes a game while attending the University of Saskatoon. When I starting playing with the Victoria Vikings, which by that time was on the verge of being a national championship team, I played perhaps two minutes a game. Like I said – it was a difficult period for someone to whom basketball was almost everything! There were some who thought I wouldn’t weather the storm (so to speak) but I persevered.
During the basketball season, one Sunday, I went to Church with a basketball teammate of mine (Eli Pasquale). The priest who was offering the Mass and preaching the sermon “made sense.” Shortly after attending this Mass, I met Fr. John Laszczyk (the priest who had offered the Mass) –of the Diocese of Vancouver Island – and we began to talk about faith and develop a long friendship.
I can’t remember when “it” happened but one day it struck me that God wanted me to be a priest. It is hard to explain how I knew – I just knew that something was there or “something” or “someone” was calling me in that direction. Now, while you might think – ‘that’s what you were made for’ – I can assure you that this thought had never entered into my thinking before. My concept of the priesthood, up till that point, was based on a memory of my parish priest when I was growing up. The only time I saw him, he was saying Mass or tending to his garden. The life style didn’t exactly excite me. Nevertheless, this “thing” wouldn’t let me go. In the meantime, I was meeting many evangelical Christians on the University Campus and they were getting me to think seriously about Catholicism. They were all good people and good friends. In a strange kind of way they helped me to rediscover my Catholic faith and the beauty of it.
All was not so easy though. Once I began to realize the priesthood meant celibacy I began to question and struggle. This was not so much from a disagreement with the Church but whether or not I could “do it.” I struggled for about a two-year period – continuing to play basketball and going to school at UVIC. In my third year of University I began, for the first time, to really love my studies. Up until that time studies served as a means whereby I could play basketball. In my third year I began to take a keen interest in my studies and really wanted to do well. At the end of my fourth year – the basketball team had won four national championships, and by this time – I knew that I had to enter the seminary and find out from God if he wanted me to stay or leave. I entered the seminary and they didn’t ask me to leave – what is more important, as I moved through the courses I became more convinced and clearer in my intellectual and spiritual perception that God was calling me to the priesthood. The only thing that was left for the “stamp” of approval was the acceptance from the Archbishop of Vancouver. On June 26, 1987, that “stamp” of approval came when his Grace, Archbishop James Carney, ordained me to the Sacred Priesthood of Jesus Christ.
One of the great blessings of my priesthood is that I’ve never regretted one day. In fact, I would contend that the Army, in its motto “there’s no life like it,” is not exactly 100 percent true. For those called to the priesthood –and nobody is worthy of it! – there is no life like it. Another of the great blessings (I could list many) is that I received my father into the Catholic Church on the 40th Anniversary of my Mother and Father’s marriage. I still wonder at the truth that Father Hamilton brought his father – Giles Hamilton – into the Church. He brought me into the world and I brought him into the Church. I am thankful to God every day of my life, and despite the fact that I am unworthy and he could have chosen many others better qualified, He decided to choose me. While there have been challenging days (who doesn’t have them) I can honestly say that I’ve never looked back and I’ve always experienced deep joy that Jesus Christ called me and in this major decision of my life … I got it right.
In the event that young people will read this I would hope that you find some light in it. Consider that God might be calling you. I would never have thought –when I was young – that God would call me. Yet, here I am. This life – this vocation – might also be for you.