The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter that occupies a large section in the Mulvahill garage looks like a van that you would take from a classy hotel in Manhattan to LaGuardia.

The Sprinter has had a different duty for the Mulvahills. Often, the van is filled to its 17-seat capacity for trips with the children, including to the matches played by the St. Thomas men's soccer team this past season.

Johnny Mulvahill was an outstanding senior defender for the 2016 Tommies, a group that won the school's first MIAC title since 1995 and reached the NCAA Division III semifinals in Salem, Va.

"Johnny had told me about his family situation, but until you see it — all the kids getting out of the van in their St. Thomas purple — it's hard to get your head wrapped around it," said Jon Lowery, the Tommies coach.

The situation is this: Jean and Jim Mulvahill raised five children, with Johnny as the youngest. He was about to enter high school at Benilde-St. Margaret's a decade ago.

"The other kids were out of the house," Jim said. "Children are so important to Jean, to both of us, and we started thinking about the empty nest. We felt we had a lot more to give as parents."

Jean had seen documentaries on the plight of abandoned children in China. The Mulvahills took classes on adoption, first worked with an agency called Children's Home Society and, in July 2007, Anna joined the family.

She was a 1½-year-old with a severe cleft palate, and with big, gorgeous eyes that immediately grabbed Jean's heart.

Almost a decade later, Anna has the five adult siblings, and also 15 sisters (10) and brothers (five) adopted from China by the Mulvahills. As with Anna, these were children with medical needs.

Modern medicine in America and a caring home appears to have done some wonders, starting with Anna.

The number of adopted children grew to 16 right before Christmas, when Jim, Jean and adopted daughters Ava and Melissa traveled to China to bring home Jacob and Grace. Jacob, 9, was adopted from an orphanage in Tonghua, a city that sits on the North Korean border. Grace, 8, was in Beijing.

The Mulvahills have adopted children from 10 provinces. They have become familiar with train travel in China, both the rumbling, overcrowded antiques and the rapid trains that are part of the country's economic expansion.

They are devoted members of the Holy Name of Jesus Catholic parish in Medina. There is a very strong spiritual connection here, and it takes a minute when talking with Jean to understand the approach.

When she says, "Ava and Sam came home in 2011," that means they arrived in Minnesota as 100 percent Mulvahills.

"The idea is to give our adopted kids the same advantages and as close to the same life as our five older children," Jim said. "They all faced uncertain futures in China for various reasons, and to now see them bustling around the house … it's a gift for us."

The bustling also has been a gift of enthusiasm for the St. Thomas soccer team over the past few years.

"The van pulls up and everyone gets a smile on their face," Lowery said. "Those kids have been our best fans. We consider them to be part of the team."

Johnny Mulvahill was Minnesota's Mr. Soccer for Benilde-St. Margaret's in the fall of 2011. Lowery was coaching at Hamline at the time.

"I tried to recruit him, but he wasn't interested in us," Lowery said. "Then I was hired in April [2012] at St. Thomas and that gave us a chance to get him. He was talented, and so intelligent, and wanted so much to win. … Johnny was exactly the type of player we needed to start changing expectations here."

Men's soccer was the rare sport where the Tommies had middle-of-MIAC status. Even when Lowery first was hired, coaching men's soccer was a part-time job at St. Thomas.

"We had a team meeting where we were asked our goals for playing soccer at St. Thomas," Johnny Mulvahill said this week. "I said, 'I want to win a national championship.' A few of the older players laughed and said, 'How about realistic goals?' "

Lowery said: "We didn't get the national championship, but we came close. Johnny and those first guys that bought in to what we were trying to do put us on a great path."

The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and what were then 14 younger siblings made it to 24 matches, including two in the regional in Chicago. The only match they missed was the national semifinal in Virginia, where the Tommies lost to Tufts.

"The kids love it," Jean said. "We're still going to put on our purple sweatshirts and wear our scarves and go to a few St. Thomas soccer matches next fall."

Mark is the nearest in age to Johnny and quite the amazing older brother to the adopted Mulvahills. He has made a couple of trips to China with his parents to bring home children. He has the chart readily available listing the children by date of adoption, city and province.

He also knows a bit of Chinese, which is more than the rest of the original Mulvahills can claim.

"It is an impossible language to learn," said Jim, smiling. "Fortunately, most of our adopted kids haven't had much trouble picking up English."

Sarah, now 16 and the second child adopted in 2008, seems to be Jean's chief assistant in keeping the house running smoothly. She's a bit slowed in that role right now, with a cast on a broken foot.

"We were sledding on the hill right here and one of my brothers fell off and landed on my foot," Sarah said.

She said this with the same feigned irritation you would expect from any older sister in any Minnesota household.

Which is what the Mulvahills have tried to achieve here: One very full nest of family members living as normally as possible.