The stage is set for the annual John Paul II (JPII) Classic, where priests and seminarians from the Diocese of Phoenix will go head-to-head in a friendly yet spirited basketball matchup. 

Slated for Friday, August 2, at Brophy College Preparatory (BCP) in Phoenix, this event has become a cornerstone of the Phoenix Catholic community, celebrating unity and faith. 

Fr. Matthew Lowry, episcopal vicar of the North and director of the Northern Arizona University Newman Center in Flagstaff, Ariz., has played in every JPII Classic since the inaugural tip-off in 2015.  

“From the first game [in 2015], I had under estimated how beautiful, good and joyful the event is, and how Catholic is it in a sense that families could bring their children,” stated Fr. Lowry. “People are rejoicing to be Catholic. Christ came so that his joy might be in us and our joy might be complete. We are to receive the Kingdom of God like a child and what better way to be childlike in playing.” 

Fr. Daniel Connealy of San Francisco de Asis in Flagstaff, Ariz., echoes Fr. Lowry’s message, that the game provides a platform for the Catholic community to come together to enjoy the gifts God has given His people. 

“The common denominator is always Jesus Christ. It’s [the JPII classic] an opportunity for us to show that the Lord cares about everything. He cares about how we take care of ourselves, how we live as human beings, He wants us to enjoy life and this event is one way to receive that gift from the Lord.” 

Initially held at Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH) in Scottsdale, Ariz., the JPII Classic has grown significantly over the years, necessitating moves to larger venues such as Xavier College Preparatory (XCP) and now BPC. Last year’s game drew over 1,500 enthusiastic fans, highlighting the event’s growing popularity and significance.  

“It was super loud in the gymnasium especially as the game got tighter,” recalls Samuel Fowler, a seminarian from Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Tempe, Ariz., of last year’s overtime game that resulted in a win for the seminarian squad. “I don’t think I’ve ever played in a game that was that loud, so it was really fun to see all the people there. They were having just as much fun as we were.” 

The event not only provides an entertaining night out for parishioners, but also serves as a vital fundraiser for vocations within the Diocese of Phoenix. Proceeds from ticket sales and sponsorships support initiatives such as the expansion of Nazareth Seminary, underlining the event’s dual role in promoting and nurturing future clergy. 

“The JPII Classic is a great partnership opportunity for the Diocese and different Catholic entities,” stated Fr. Lowry. “I think people have seen the goodness from the JPII Classic and have committed to help continue to grow the event so other people can participate in the goodness and be rejuvenated in their faith.” 

Parishioners are encouraged to arrive prior to the 7 p.m. tip-off to enjoy pre-game festivities, including delicious offerings from local food trucks starting at 5 p.m. 

Standing 6’5″ tall, Fr. Connealy, played varsity basketball at Shadow Mountain High School in Phoenix, but his true passion was swimming. He went on to swim for two years in college at the University of Pittsburg before entering the seminary.  

“I might do a little bit of running beforehand, but I mostly swim for exercise these days. I’m a fish out of water,” stated Fr. Connealy. “But like a true ‘big-man’ I like to shoot the three. A crucial part of the priests’ game plan is to get the big man (me) the three ball,” he joked.  

Team Seminarian, or as they call themselves the ‘Phoenix Sons’ are known to hold a few practices in preparation for the big game. 

“We definitely practice for it,” stated Fowler, who played both basketball and baseball growing up and will be making his second appearance in the JPII Classic. “As it gets closer we [the seminarians] will get together and shoot around and play some pick-up basketball, we don’t want to lose. We don’t just show up and hope for the best.” 

Proving their practice pays off, the Phoenix Sons hold a 5-3 series edge over the ‘Church Fathers,’ their opposing team made up of priests.

“Last year’s game was really exciting and I am expecting the same kind of game this go around,” stated Fowler. “We really enjoyed having everyone there last year and seeing the venue packed.” 

The JPII Classic Year-By-Year Game Results: 

08/07/2015, OLPH, 46-46, S 

08/03/2016, XCP, 50-45, P 

08/05/2017, XCP, 44-31, P 

08/03/2018, XCP, 46-41, P 

08/02/2022, XCP, 55-51, S 

2020, no game due to COVID 

08/07/2021, XCP, 30-25, S 

08/05/2022, XCP, 39-27, S 

08/11/2023, BCP, 38-34 OT, S 

“We’re proving to everyone that we shouldn’t quit our day jobs,” stated Fr. Lowery with a laugh. “You want to win, and it is fun to have a close game and over the years we have had several close games, but basketball is about the team. It’s a team sport and as Catholics, we are team people. We need one another; we’re brothers and sisters. The JPII classic is a way for us to come together. God has us on a team where everybody can win.” 

After the game, fans can enjoy fellowship and free ice cream provided by the Knights of Columbus.   

“I hope if people are able to, they come out,” stated Fr. Connealy. “It’s a good Catholic time and people enjoying life and living the joys of life in accordance to the Lord.” 

“Whenever people see priests doing human activities, it is very life-giving,” stated Fr. Lowery. “We’re not just spiritual beings, we’re embodied spirts and our spiritual life and joy is meant to permeate everything we do and I think it helps the priests to be relatable. Every person and family that has come in years past has been glad they came,” stated Fr. Lowry.  

Tickets and t-shirts for the game go on sale July 1. For tickets, information or sponsorship opportunities, visit 

Click here to sign up for the free weekly newsletter from The Catholic Sun.