‘American Ninja Warrior’: Meet the ‘Papal Ninja’


One of the better reality shows for families is NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior,” and this season, it’s also a great show for Catholics.

Based on a Japanese format, “ANW” pits incredibly fit and dedicated contestants against an elaborately constructed obstacle course that changes each time they compete on it. If they survive the preliminary rounds without fouling or falling, contestants face more rounds, on their way to the finals course — called Mount Midoriyama — in Las Vegas, and a $1 million prize (only for the winner; everyone else goes home empty-handed).

While few people will be in the shape or have the motivation to compete in something as challenging as “ANW,” it teaches lessons about rewards for hard work, courage and perseverance. The way the show is edited, it also emphasizes competitors’ personal lives, especially difficulties they overcome, and their connections with friends and family.

The show has also shown itself to be faith-friendly, with no effort made to downplay the beliefs of Christian competitors.

In the the Los Angeles qualifying rounds — you can watch the whole episode here — which aired on Wednesday, June 1, Californian Sean Bryan, who calls himself the “Papal Ninja,” completed the course and will move on to the next round, the “City Finals.”

On his Facebook page, here’s how he describes himself:

Cal Physics GYMNAST turned NINJA with an MA in Theology. Dominican by education & Salesian at heart. Works to animate the sleeping giant of Catholic laity.

And here’s how he’s described at LayMission.net:

Curriculum Team,Development Team,Project Director

Sean is the Lay Mission Project Director and curriculum team member. Sean received his bachelor’s of arts degree at UC Berkeley, where he studies physics and was on the men’s gymnastics team. After graduation, he spent four years in various Salesian ministerial settings while discerning his vocation. In 2015 Sean completed his Master of Arts in Theology with a Salesian Studies concentration at the Dominican School of Phillosophy & Theology. His Masters thesis analyzed the ecclesiology inherent to documents of the Second Vatican Council, and proposes the Scriptural notion of liturgy as an interpretive lens that elucidates the relationship between formal ritual worship and its integrated expression in everyday life. His exploration led to practical applications geared toward the animation of the faithful, including the Lay Mission Project itself.

Sean is also known for his participation in the NBC show American Ninja Warrior, where he has taken on the identity of the Papal Ninja, stealthily accomplishing the mission of the One who sent him on a mission to the secular realm.


He’s also a pretty amazing athlete. Take a look (he’s the second contestant featured, after “Abs McGee,” as the Yahoo! host calls him:

And here’s what “American Ninja Warrior’s” official Twitter had to say:


There’s no way to know how far Bryan can go, but for now, he’s honoring the yellow-and-white Vatican colors. Go Papal Ninja!

Image: Courtesy NBC

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