Former professional soccer player Newman Center’s new priest


Brian Bauer

Sunday night mass begins at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center.

By Madeleine Hubbard, Staff Writer

Chase Hilgenbrinck always dreamed of becoming a professional soccer player. But that’s not where his career ended up. Hilgenbrinck, better known now as Father Chase, left his professional soccer team to become a priest.

“It wasn’t that I wanted to be a priest. In fact, I never wanted to,” Hilgenbrinck said.

Serving as an assistant chaplain for St. John’s Catholic Newman Center since June 2016, he remembers sitting in a chapel after practice one day, just praying.

“I was praying that all my dreams would come true,” Hilgenbrinck said. “Just right then in the silence of my heart, I heard this voice deep down in my conscience, in my soul, just saying, ‘Be my priest,’ and at that time, it startled me.”

Hilgenbrinck continued playing professional soccer; he still had no desire to be a priest. Yet after visiting the church, Hilgenbrinck said he felt “called” every single day of his life.

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    So he started thinking about joining the priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church.

    “It just got stronger and stronger until there was no doubt in my mind that God was asking me to do this,” Hilgenbrinck said.

    Hilgenbrinck grew up in a Catholic family in Bloomington, Ill. and began playing soccer as a child. He later went on to play at Clemson University. Upon graduating in 2004, Hilgenbrinck went to Chile to play soccer.

    “I think the Lord was preparing me at that time to have great sympathy, empathy and compassion,” he said, describing his time in Chile.

    He said that in Chile, people’s lives are a lot different than those living in the United States, and it gave him a different perspective.

    “It was a difficult reality, but in the end, it became beautiful,” Hilgenbrinck said. “I began to love it. It was a place that I really called home, being there for four years.”

    At the time, Hilgenbrinck was dating a girl in Chile. He said he had a fantastic relationship with her but could not see himself getting married.

    Hilgenbrinck returned to the United States in December of 2007, when he made up his mind to enter seminary to start the process to become a priest.

    However, even though he knew he wanted to be a priest, Hilgenbrinck was offered to play for the New England Revolution, a Major League Soccer team, in the spring of 2008. After playing four games with the Revolution, Hilgenbrinck’s career as a professional soccer player ended when he choose to leave to enter the seminary.

    Hilgenbrinck attended Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Maryland for almost six years before becoming ordained as a priest in May 2014.

    As a professional soccer player, Hilgenbrinck said he had practice in the morning for two hours and would then have free time the rest of the day. Now at the Newman Center, an average day for him lasts from about 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

    Hilgenbrinck’s schedule is filled with mass, confessions, preparing talks, meeting with students and giving spiritual direction. When he doesn’t have a meeting in the evening, Hilgenbrinck said he goes to sporting events and gets involved in the local community.

    “Everybody in the world is longing for intimate relationships, and I have the opportunity to be there every single day with people,” he said. “If there was a simple job description of what a priest does, it would be that he unites men with God and God with men.”

    With a smaller staff at St. John’s Newman Center this fall, Head Chaplain Father Luke Spannagel said that this year, they will “focus a little more on our interior unity” along with “reaching out to the broader campus.”

    “(Father Chase) is really involved here at Newman with the students … He’s just been such a great addition, a really great person to have around and a great priest as well,” said Natalie Brady, a freshman in Business.

    Still enjoying soccer, Brady said Father Chase comes to the intramural soccer games at Newman.

    Remarking on the perception that “faith isn’t fun,” Hilgenbrinck said that at Newman Center, he sees students who are “joyful on the inside and out; and it’s authentic, and it’s genuine.”

    “I’ve tried both worlds,” Hilgenbrinck said. “I can tell you that being faithful is something that brings satisfaction, not just happiness.”

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