Celtics Center Finds Key to Happiness in Faith and Friendship With the Saints

7-foot-1-inch NBA champion Luke Kornet learns from setbacks and sufferings — anchored by adoration and the Mass.

Luke Kornet and his wife, Tierney
Luke Kornet and his wife, Tierney (photo: Courtesy of Luke Kornet)

Luke Kornet left Vanderbilt University in 2017 with high hopes. He was the school’s all-time record holder in blocks (210) and was the NCAA’s all-time record holder in three-pointers made by a seven-footer (150). 

Success on the professional level seemed likely, yet there would be plenty of surprises for Kornet. Injuries, trades and shooting adjustments left the husband and father of two doubting his ability to play at the sport’s highest level. 

However, these very doubts turned out to be valuable, as they spurred Kornet to look more deeply into his Catholic faith. Once he had a greater knowledge and appreciation for what matters most, he was able to find his niche on the court — and in the home.

Kornet, 28, spoke to the Register of his rough road to winning the recent NBA Championship with the Boston Celtics. Although he has grown accustomed to ducking into low doorways, he did not duck any questions.



After so many setbacks, what was it like to finally win the NBA Championship?

Winning the Finals was a great experience, especially having been in Boston for several years now and having come close in the past. In relation to where I have personally been in my career, I would not have believed this was possible three years ago. At that point, I had just undergone ankle reconstruction surgery and found myself out of the NBA and heading back to the G-League, the NBA’s minor league. 

My two prior years with the Chicago Bulls had been difficult, since, after breaking my nose, my breathing was seriously compromised, which led to the loss of my shooting ability. Despite being 7-foot-1 and the shot blocking and rebounding usually expected from that, my primary skill as a player to that point in life was my three-point shooting, so without that, I really struggled to make a positive difference on the court. 

This time being back in the minor league really made me face my pride and my role as a husband and father. It became a pivotal moment in my faith; I had to decide the type of person and player I wanted to be. But having to face myself and answer those questions has really made these last three years the best of my life. 

I still struggle with wanting to be able to shoot from distance like my younger self and balancing our hectic travel schedule with being a fully engaged husband and father, but I also experience greater joy now than I ever did when I lived life for personal success. 

So, although I enjoyed the feeling of winning a championship, the real joy was the journey with my teammates and especially the taking of a moment aside with my wife, knowing what God has done throughout our life together.

Luke Kornet celebrates with Celtics teammates
Luke Kornet celebrates with Celtics teammates(Photo: Courtesy of Luke Kornet)



How has your view of suffering changed since you’ve started to learn more about Catholicism?

The acceptance of suffering has been the most transformative lesson of these last three years. I used to think suffering was supposed to be avoided, if possible, but if not, then it was a challenge that we had to go through alone. 

I thought the saints were a group of people that were just hard workers with better faith than mine and who didn’t struggle. But when I went through suffering that I could no longer ignore and hit a really low point in my life and marriage, I experienced Christ with a tender and merciful love instead of the judgment and criticism I expected. That experience completely transformed my life.

The Gospel and lives of the saints have taken on a completely new meaning for me — one that I’ve come to learn is present throughout the history of the Church. I see Christ’s life and passion as validation of the sufferings of my own life and affirmation that he desires to walk with me in them. 

Now, I desire to be fully present during Mass, realizing that, in the Eucharist, Christ lives in me and is united to the joys and sufferings that I now get to experience in my life. A very helpful book on this topic is Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist by Brant Pitre.

I also no longer see the saints as distant personifications of superior judgments on myself, but intimate friends who dealt with their own weaknesses and insecurities and faithfully let Christ come into their lives and reshape them. Reading G.K. Chesterton’s biographies on St. Francis of Assisi and St. Thomas Aquinas first opened me up to realizing the very human sufferings of the saints.

Although I still struggle with accepting my sufferings, I now look for how God may be leading me closer to him through the sufferings I experience. With each faithful day, I grow in the ability to see how walking on the dusty and sometimes arduous road with Christ has allowed me to love more and become more of the man God has made me to be. As St. Catherine of Siena said, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”


What are some of the faith-centered activities you now do that you previously did not do — or may not have even known about?

I have really loved attending daily Mass more frequently. As a kid, I knew it existed, and we had a Friday school Mass for some of my elementary-school years, but it never really dawned on me to go on a weekday except when it was a holy day of obligation. 

Now, I travel a lot as a basketball player, but the Church is home for me wherever I go. For the last two years, I’ve been going to Mass on the day of every road game and more frequently when at home as a family. 

Eucharist adoration outside of Mass is also a time I like to spend with Christ. Some days, I can do a complete Holy Hour, and other days it may just be a few minutes while on the way home from practice. 

The Rosary has become a special daily devotion and one that we have now adopted as a family — as well as the Litany of St. Joseph, who has become a spiritual father after reading Consecration to St. Joseph by Father Donald Calloway. 

Honestly, my favorite practice we’ve adopted as a family is celebrating more of the different solemnities and feast days of saints by having a specially themed meal or dessert and taking some time to read about their lives as a family. My wife uses The Catholic All Year Compendium by Kendra Tierney to help with celebrating the liturgical year.



At 7-foot-1, do you have trouble in confessionals?

Most confessionals were not built with the seven-footer in mind. I often must crouch in and find a way to contort my legs to remain inside, but, fortunately, there is some extra room at our home parish. 

However, I do always have to lower the kneeler of the pew behind me during Mass, or else I am certain to kick it down when it comes time to kneel. The Catholic Church is universal and “one-size-fits-all,” as it pertains to the soul, but XL pews and confessionals would be nice!



Until that happens, you can use those annoyances as penances for Exodus 90.

Exodus 90 played a vital role in the deepening of my faith. My struggles in Chicago opened the door for me to be willing to try something new and radical to get away from the pain that basketball was at the time. Together with my brother-in-law and a few of my friends, we struggled through 90 days of cold showers, no sugary drinks and no snacks, amongst other ascetic disciplines.

That time opened my life up to the efficacy of penance, removing our attachments to this world in order to deepen our faith. Combining that with daily Holy Hours really prepared my soul much like the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13. The disciplines removed the thorns and tilled the earth, bringing up the softer, fertile soil hidden underneath, so that I could receive the seed of the Scripture readings and prayer.

Those 90 days were really an inflection point in my spiritual life as well as the spiritual lives of those doing the program with me. My wife, as well as the wives of my friends, found us being more attentive, loving fathers — and my brother-in-law is now in formation with the Dominican Friars of the Province of St. Martin de Porres. I have since done the Exodus program again, and it now sets my understanding and framework of my preparation for every Lent.



Do you go to church with your head coach, Joe Mazzulla?

There is a group of staff members with the team who are Catholic; and especially on Sundays on the road, we try to coordinate a time for us all to go to Mass together. However, we’re not always that coordinated, so on multiple occasions on the road, I’ve been heading to Mass on my own, only to find Coach Mazzulla in the lobby leaving to do the same thing. 

Coach is certainly a man of conviction and faithfulness, and I’m grateful to have a leader for our team who is firm in his faith and committed to serving the group. He knows who the people God has called him to serve, and he does his best to respond to that call.


You’ve blogged about beautiful churches around the country. What are some of your favorites?

One thing I am consistently amazed by is how many beautiful churches there are across North America. We usually stay in the downtown areas, so the churches are often more traditional and historical. Some notable ones I have visited are the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. 

I think my favorite was the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal, where I attended Mass before a preseason game. We hope to make a family trip to Montreal again this summer to see St. Joseph’s Oratory, the largest church in Canada, which is standing because of the active faith of St. André Bessette. 


Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal
Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal(Photo: Courtesy of Luke Kornet)

Across the entire continent, I’ve been fortunate to have had a lot of different experiences and have been welcomed by communities of different rites, cultures and languages. Each church is a testament to the faithful of generations past, who poured their time, skill and resources into making an enduring home where we can now worship.



What do you plan on doing after your playing career has ended?

I am not completely sure, but I know I will want to serve and teach at some capacity. I think I would be well-suited to be some sort of coach, counselor or teacher. I also would like to do some sort of evangelization or catechesis at some point in time. 

I am also interested in becoming a deacon later in life, if God calls me to that — and, at the very least, be able to more routinely serve at my parish. If my life experience is any indication, however, I just hope to listen to God, to follow him and, in the meantime, to continue growing as a husband and father.



Is St. Luke your patron?

St. Luke is certainly important to me, although Simon Peter is my confirmation name, so it is more so him. Peter has been a central figure in my growth in the faith. His life is such an incredible witness to the healing and mercy of Jesus Christ. 

Simon Peter is someone we can always look to in our times of failure and see what is possible when you combine Divine Mercy and love with our own submission and faithfulness. The transformation that Simon Peter went through, from his denial and abandonment to serving as the first pope and his eventual martyrdom, can give us confidence in the radical power of Christ. 


Trent Beattie is the author of Fit for Heaven (Dynamic Catholic) as well as Scruples and Sainthood (Loreto Publications). He is also the editor of Apostolic Athletes (Marian Press) and Saint Alphonsus Liguori for Every Day (Mediatrix Press).