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TV’s ‘Papal Ninja’s’ day job: Helping form Catholic laity for discipleship

November 9, 2017
Tom Burke

07 Bryan MUGLike most people in show business, Sean Bryan of recent “American Ninja Warrior” fame competing as the “Papal Ninja,” has a day job, one he is not likely to ever give up.

Bryan is animating director of the Lay Mission Project, founded “to form laypeople to delve deeply into the mysteries of the faith” and to take them into their daily lives, he said via email. Bryan holds an undergraduate degree in physics from UC Berkeley and a graduate degree in theology from the Dominican School of Philosophy & Theology in Berkeley. Dominican Father Michael Sweeney is executive director of the project.

The three-year lay mission program has online and in-person elements and is now being tested in the Diocese of Sacramento. “We’ve received great feedback regarding how the formation has impacted the lives of the participants within their families” and “their engagements at work,” Bryan said.

While Bryan’s deep-seated faith, a gift he sources mostly to his mom’s dad and writings of saints especially St. Francis de Sales and St. John Bosco, seems a long way from running televised obstacle courses, he says everything he does “is an opportunity to witness the faith.” Ninjas are like disciples, he said, in that they are both charged with missions accomplished with “skill sets taught to them by a master.” The Papal Ninja name enforces that for him.

About 70,000 people have auditioned for “American Ninja Warrior” over the last few years, according to Bryan. From them, some 600 are chosen each year to run the course with about 200 making it to the show. Contenders submit an online application as well as a short video that shows “your personality, your athletic abilities and most importantly your story,” Bryan said. His very Catholic story “was unique and captured the attention of the producers,” he said.

Bryan speaks Nov. 12 at 6 p.m. at Star of the Sea Parish, Eighth Avenue at Geary Boulevard, San Francisco. He will tell the story of his experience as a “missionary disciple – in the trenches of the spiritual life, in ministry, as well as my apostolic commitments including ‘American Ninja Warrior.’”

He said topics may include love, friendship, sin, vocation, and the interior life and the session “will conclude with a ‘no-holds-barred’ question-and-answer session, where you can ask about life, liturgy, discipleship, ministry, being a ninja, or even about my favorite childhood cartoon.”

Bryan said to watch for him on a few more episodes of “American Ninja Warrior” on NBC, and the USA Network’s “Ninja vs. Ninja.” He said he looks forward to continuing his work with Father Sweeney on “further developing the Lay Mission Project, as well as offering what I can at conferences and talks around the country.”

Visit laymission.net. Admission and parking are free for the talk at Star of the Sea. More information available at www.starparish.com.



The Lay Mission Project
The objective of the Lay Mission Project is to prepare laypeople for the sake of their fundamental calling to transform secular society through living the faith in all aspects of life: in the family, socially, in one’s occupation, etc., according to at laymission.net. Through study, reflection, prayer, and discipleship community building, the project aims to help individuals to discover and live out their unique callings, and to form them to order and transform secular society while accompanying others into authentic relationship with Jesus Christ.

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