Sunday, July 31, 2011
From Cleats to a Clerical Collar...
Chase Michael Hilgenbrinck McDonald was born in 1982 in Quincy, Illinois and he is famous for being a soccer defender with a pro career who ditched it all to become a Roman Catholic Priest. His parents were ordinary mid-western folk -- dad a regional sales manager for a fertilizer dealership and mom an accountant with State Farm Insurance -- who raised their children in the faith. They took their two boys to Holy Trinity Church in Bloomington, where each served as an altar boy.
Chase made the US Under-17 national team then played for Clemson University, was drafted to a Chilean team, and after four seasons there, he joined Colorado Rapids in early 2008. Because of a salary cap issue, he was waived but then signed with the New England Revolution. Hilgenbrick's last game was on a Sunday, July 13 2008, at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. In the summer of 2007, he received the application packet for the priesthood from the vocation director at the Peoria diocesan office. He retired from soccer on July 14, 2008 to enter the Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland in order to become a priest. He expects to be ordained in May of 2014.
It was said that his teammates were shocked by his decision. Suffice it to say that the fellow sitting next to me was not only shocked but felt it a waste of his talent and gift, squandered in service to the Lord. I write not about Chase Hilgenbrinck but about the way we look at church vocations today. I have found personally that the biggest impediments to getting youth to consider church work careers are his or her parents. This is especially true with boys and the Pastoral Ministry.
When I was a child, church work vocations were considered a high and holy calling, one that honored the family as well as the Lord. Maybe I spent too much time watching Going My Way, The Bells of St. Mary's, or The Shoes of the Fisherman, and such. Maybe it was a different era. I lament the way that church service careers have dropped in esteem. The Roman Catholic Church can blame this as well as the abuse scandal for their lack of candidates for the priesthood. Jim Nestingen once told me that the seminaries (at least as he noted it within the ELCA) seemed to be magnets for wounded people seeking personal healing. I know that he is right there and some of it is true in Missouri as well. I am concerned that we do not seem to be doing as great job today as we did in the past encouraging and supporting first career men as Pastors. We tend to shepherd our best and brightest into other callings (more uniformly respected and more highly remunerated than church service vocations). It is also true that our "teacher's colleges" are not producing all that many parochial school teachers, either.
I do not know Chase Hilgenbrinck but I applaud the attention given to his decision and hope that it will give pause to parents and youth sorting out the call of God and a vocation to church work.