California Catholic Daily exclusive:

On Sunday, November 12, San Francisco’s Star of the Sea parish will host a talk by Sean Bryan, better known to millions of viewers of NBC’s hit show “American Ninja Warrior” as the “Papal Ninja.”

“American Ninja Warrior” follows contestants as they attempt to complete obstacle courses of ever-increasing difficulty. Should a competitor complete all the obstacles, he or she will win a prize of $1 million. In the nine years the show has been running, only two competitors have managed to win the grand prize. Bryan flew through every obstacle on the NBC/Esquire show, claiming 4th place – all while wearing the bright white and yellow papal flag on his shirt. On the shirt were the words: “Papal Ninja”.

Bryan told Catholic News Agency the reason he took on the “Papal Ninja” name for the show was because “I thought, how could I be a bit more explicit about my faith? Because it is quite explicit in my life.”

Bryan was a gymnast in high school and received B.A. in physics from UC Berkeley. From there, he went on to receive a Masters in Theology at Berkeley’s Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology (in some scenes in “American Ninja” one can see Dominican priests in the background cheering Bryan on). Following his studies at the Dominican School, he did four years of discernment with the Salesians of Don Bosco, finally reaching the understanding that his vocation lay elsewhere.
Bryan has served on occasion as Master of Ceremonies for Oakland’s Bishop Michael Barber and is the Animating Director for the Lay Mission Project of the Diocese of Oakland. Before every competition he says the following prayer, composed for him by Fr. Michael Sweeney, OP, President of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology from 2004-2015: “Come Holy Spirit, be my strength. Banish from my heart my doubts, my fear, my shame. Let me see with you, move with you, rejoice with you, rest in you. Conform me to Jesus Who is Christ and Lord. That I may proclaim him, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.”


Bryan himself does not see anything unusual in his calling “We’re all called to be papal ninjas,” Bryan said, “to help accomplish the secular mission of the Church as a lay person.”

The talk will be at Star of the Sea at 8th Avenue and Geary Street in San Francisco, on Sunday, November 12, from 6:00 to 7:00pm. Admission and parking are free.