BLOOMINGTON (WCIA) — Most soccer practices start with a whistle but this one begins with a prayer.
“It’s something that combines kind of the two greatest loves in my life–athletics and especially the game of soccer,” Father Chase Hilgenbrinck says. “And the second is my newest love which is my love for Jesus Christ and the church.”
To follow his love for the church, Hilgenbrinck gave up his professional soccer career. The Illinois native was a three-year starter at Clemson and went on to play Ñublense soccer club in Chile. Then after a season in the MLS, he decided to quit the game and enroll in seminary to become a Catholic priest.
“For every soccer player, and for every professional athlete or any athlete at any level, we know the jersey is going to come off at some time,” he said. “And I want to tell athletes of all ages right now, that the Lord is not taking away those skills and abilities, he’s just asking us to use them in a different way.”
And his way is through the Catholic Soccer Camp. Hilgenbrinck started the camp in Chicago and decided to bring it to Central Illinois this year. St. Thomas More head coach James Johnson joins Hilgenbrink as a soccer mentor.
“These core values are important on the soccer field, they’re important in life, and I think what we’re learning through this camp, and there reinforced through living the Christian life. It’s Father’s vision and I’m really thankful to be a part of it.”
“It’s super inspiring,” camper John White said. “I want to become super strong in my faith now and get really good at soccer and use it to glorify God.”
“It’s not shameful to be a Christian, it’s not shameful to become who you are made to be,” Hilgenbrinck said. “It’s not shameful to hide who you are. I want them to have confidence in who they are and everything that they’ve learned and to be able to live that gospel.”
Father Hilgenbrinck serves at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center in Champaign, and continues to spread his message that athletics and faith don’t have to be separate.