Priesthood’s Been a Swish For Hoops-Loving Pastor

Father Jose Diaz, pastor of Mary’s Nativity-St. Ann in Flushing, is seen playing pickup hoops with his fellow seminarians while they studied at Douglaston. (Photo: Courtesy Father Jose Diaz)

For the most passionate basketball aficionados, they know that ball is life. 

For some though, ball can still be life, in addition to many other interests. Take Father Jose Diaz for example. 

For Father Diaz, ball is certainly life. Yet serving God by serving others as a priest also became his life’s mission. 

Father Diaz is the pastor of Mary’s Nativity-St. Ann, Flushing. He was installed as pastor a year ago when Father Ed Kachurka was assigned to St. Gregory the Great, Bellerose. 

Since growing up in Corona, Father Diaz had a love of basketball. His parents — immigrants from the Dominican Republic — sent him to Catholic grammar school at Blessed Sacrament, Jackson Heights, which was also the family’s parish. 

He played Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) basketball for one year but mostly enjoyed pickup games with his friends. Even though he eventually grew to 6 feet, 2 inches tall, he did not play hoops in high school at St. John’s Prep, Astoria, since most of his free time was spent working in a grocery store. 

Still, Father Diaz absolutely loved basketball, especially his hometown favorite New York Knicks. He enjoyed the glory days of Madison Square Garden with the likes of Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, Allan Houston, and John Starks. 

While he practiced his Catholic faith throughout high school, it wasn’t until a chance encounter with a friend during his senior year that Father Diaz began to discern his vocation. A girl that he always said hello to in the hallways one day gave him a letter inviting him to a youth retreat. 

At first, he wasn’t sure what to think, but he decided to go on the retreat at the Hispanic Charismatic Center in the Bronx. He said he had a beautiful conversion experience that weekend and soon began volunteering to work retreats consisting of upward of 250 young people. 

“I definitely think it was divine intervention,” Father Diaz said. “This was something done by God. That weekend really changed my life and set me on a new track. I focused on serving God, and the rest is history.” 

He was ordained a priest in 2018 and assigned to St. Leo’s in Corona. He later became the chaplain at Christ the King H.S., Middle Village, which boasts one of the diocese’s top basketball programs for both boys and girls. Father Diaz thoroughly enjoyed being around the teams and praying with them before big games. 

The soon-to-be 34-year-old then became pastor at Mary’s Nativity-St. Ann, making him one of the youngest pastors in the Brooklyn Diocese. As a pastor, he’s employed the values he learned on the basketball court into his priestly ministry. 

“It’s all about being intentional about the work we do,” said Father Diaz, who will also begin the fall as the chaplain at Queens College, Flushing. “This isn’t just a job. This isn’t just something I’m doing to collect a paycheck. 

“You see guys like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, and their consistency, their attention to detail, and their love for the game are all key. Being intentional about my ministry is something I definitely get from sports.” 

In a large combined parish, working together is essential. The same holds true for a basketball team. It’s not just one person out there; it’s everyone contributing when their number is called. 

“At some point (Michael) Jordan needed to lean on Steve Kerr,” Father Diaz said. “At some point, LeBron needed to get that ball to Ray Allen. At the end of the day, that’s something we need to do as a Church, and that’s something I try to emulate as a priest.” 

Sports are so important in the formation of young people, Father Diaz said, since they can teach us how to suffer. When you’re winded and your muscles are burning, how do you find the inner strength to fight through it toward your goal? 

This is where it’s no longer about winning or losing. It’s about developing these skills for when you face real adversity in life. Sports can prepare you, the pastor said, for these types of real-world situations. 

“Through that experience, you build community,” Father Diaz said. “Through that experience, you get stronger. Through that experience, you get smarter and wiser. It really does affect you, and it’s all because you never gave up.” 

Father Diaz’s basketball background has made him an MVP-pastor at Mary’s Nativity-St. Ann. He’s now relying on his teammates — the parish’s dedicated parishioners — to work toward their goals of sustained success. 

Maybe the Knickerbockers should take some notes.