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SAN ANTONIO – It may have been the first Catholic mass that started with a standing ovation for a basketball team.
Considering the roll Villanova is on, the Wildcats, on the cusp of their second national championship in three years, better get used to the adulation.
So it was OK on Sunday morning to fudge on 2,000 years of Catholic tradition. It was Easter Sunday mass for the 4,000 or so Villanova fans gathered in a Grand Hyatt ballroom to celebrate more than the risen Lord.
Before the official proceedings even began the assembled were asked by Villanova President Rev. Peter Donohue to recognize "these remarkable men."
Spoiler alert: He wasn't talking about the disciples.
"May they fill up more baskets," said team chaplain Rob Hagan of his Wildcats, "than the Easter Bunny."
Hey, don't hit me for sacrilege. I was merely taking notes.
"The reading today," Donohue said, "is about the two apostles on the road to … San Antonio."
Or this …
"This is an incredible turn out of the Nova Nation, unbelievable," Donohue chided looking out on the crowd. "I wish every Sunday were like this."
But seriously, folks.
Since the Second Vatican Council more than 50 years ago, the Catholic mass has been more accessible, more modern. There is room for this sort of levity when it reinforces the larger message:
Jay Wright may be seen by some as God but he's still got competition from the Big Guy.
There is something about Easter mass -- the end of the long penance of Lenten season, bright dresses, smiling faces, those cute crying babies.
Throw in a national championship run and a culture ignites.
"This is why I write the checks," said Doug Chapey, a Long Island native whose son Alex graduated from Villanova two years ago. "It's a lot of money. You want to know your son is getting a good education and is in safe place."
There are thousands of places that provide that safe, private, respected education. That Nova tuition now tops $67,000 per year for incoming freshmen.
The 176-year old Catholic institution with an enrollment of 11,000 is a jewel of Philadelphia. But no other place is poised to add greater meaning to "One Shining Moment" on Monday night.
Wright brought the program to a new level when he arrived from Hofstra in 2001.
Thirteen times he has won 20 games. This is his fifth 30-win season. John Calipari, Bill Self and Mike Krzyzewski win a lot. But at this moment there are few coaches who unite an entire university faith-based community.
"Now you look at it," said Frank Boal who played football at Nova in the 1960s, 'good Lord, Jay's perfect.' "
Wright wears the perfect suits, says the perfect things and coaches the perfect team. Six players scored in double figures in the semifinal rout of Kansas. The Wildcats really haven't been challenged lately.
They have been involved in two single-digit outcomes since Valentine's Day. Those 2016 champions needed Kris Jenkins' dagger. This team needs to start planning parade back in Philly.
Perhaps none of it would have been possible without Rollie Massimino. They prayed for his soul, too, Sunday which they should.
The Nova icon died last August, able to see the bookend championship to the one he coached in 1985.
"The basketball team under Jay Wright's tutelage, you don't know what the outcome is, you know the content," Chapey said. "It's going to be integrity, intense, respectful."
Wright doesn't usually land one-and-dones but it's not because he doesn't try. Jalen Brunson was that rare five-star who projected to a multi-year player.
All the Illinois native did was become national player of the year.
"We can't get the one-and-done guys," Wright said. "We're trying. We really are. When Jalen came out he had just won the MVP of the 19-and-under FIBA world championships and people were saying he's a one-and-done.
"And he just said, 'I want to get my degree.' "
Sweeter words cannot be spoken in this age of scandal, greed and instant gratification.
Sunday's crowd at mass would have been big anyway but it would have been on campus back in Philly if not for the accomplishments of Wright. Since 2009, he has guided Nova to those three Final Fours. If he wins Monday night, that would tie Roy Williams and Krzyzewski for the most championships of any coach since that year.
The mass, then, was equal parts celebration of life, Lord and late Monday when Wildcats everywhere hope to raise another banner with a win over Michigan.
Before mass let out, Donohue dropped a bombshell. Turns out he was raised near Ann Arbor, Michigan, having been schooled by Adrian Dominican sisters.
Every Friday before the Michigan football games the school would sing the Michigan fight song," he said. "I have no desire to do that anymore."
Instead, out of nowhere – maybe divine intervention? – Whitney Houston's "Greatest Love of All," blared over the loudspeakers at the conclusion of mass.
"I have no idea how that happened," Donohue said.
Then he went with it, swaying his arms back and forth while lip syncing Whitney. Nova's greatest love of all still has a job to do Monday night.
"Now you cheered a lot louder than that," Donohue admonished his flock after tepid 'Amen' to end mass. "May God bless on this solemn feast of Easter and may he protect you from all sins.
"Amen!" they shouted.
"That's better," Donohue said.
With that, the tradition of Catholic mass concluded with another traditional ending – at least for this congregation.
They shouted "Let's Go Nova!" to the heavens.