News stories about the Catholic faith

His life is a lesson

The Catholic Sun, January 27, 2011
By Jennika Baines, Associate Editor

He lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Binghamton. He had no car, few clothes, but many friends. And when he died on Oct. 19, 2010, Michael Phillips was one of Catholic Relief Service’s longest large-gift contributors.

On a social worker’s salary, Phillips had slowly and steadily donated a total of approximately $250,000 to the charity.

Jim Lund, vice president for charitable giving at Catholic Relief Services (CRS), said that due to donor confidentiality he was not able to say the exact figure that Michael donated during his lifetime.

“But it was in the six figures,” he said. “For a substance abuse counselor it’s a substantial amount of his income.”

Michael didn’t designate his donation for any particular area of CRS’s work, Lund said. “He gave the money to care for, in his own words, the hungry in the world.”

Michael’s father, Deacon George Phillips, helped Michael with his monthly budgeting and his taxes. He said there was one year when Michael made around $34,000 and donated $17,000 to CRS.

“So you take the taxes out of that and you see what he had to live on,” he said.

Few who knew and loved Michael had any idea the amount of money he had donated over the years. But none were surprised. Michael was very clearly someone special.

At four or five years old Michael asked his parents if he could stay with his newly-widowed grandmother so she wouldn’t be lonely. A few years later he talked some of his pals into volunteering to rake leaves for elderly neighbors.

As a student at Seton Catholic High School, Michael belonged to a group on the outer fringes that called themselves “The Irregulars.” They were the misfits: the eccentric personalities, the new kids in school, kids that were too shy or too round to fit in elsewhere. And Michael was always finding new friends to invite into the group.

“He was a friend to the friendless,” said Chris Phillips, one of Michael’s three brothers.
Julie McWright grew up next door to Michael and knew all about the Irregulars. “We all came from different places of need and he seemed to know where we all were,” she said.

“He loved being Catholic and he lived for Jesus. He suffered without ever complaining because all he did was love Jesus more than I could ever understand,” McWright said. “Through his example of love I felt like a piece of Jesus was here on earth. That’s the kind of friend I was blessed with my entire life.”

She remembers Michael crying with her over high school disappointments and praying for her through illnesses of her own and in her family. The two remained close even when she married and moved to another state.

“I’ll tell you right now that I was his best friend,” McWright said, “but I guess some other people might probably say that, too.”

One of those people is Jim Flint.

The two met in high school after Flint had transferred at the start of his junior year. It was the first day of football practice. Flint didn’t have cleats and had to wear high-top sneakers in his old high school’s colors. “Everyone called me a big spoiled brat and pretty much knocked me flat on my back all during practice,” Flint said. “Afterward, Michael came up and introduced himself and we became friends. We were best friends from that day for the rest of my life.”

Michael helped Flint manage his temper and allowed him to be the best version of himself without placing any expectations on his friend. “When you had a bad day the phone would ring or someone would be at the door and it would be Michael. He just had that ability to know when people needed someone,” Flint said.

Flint and Michael would walk to Mass or around the neighborhood and Michael would stop in to check on elderly or sick neighbors. He would take out their trash, walk their dog or check that they had been taking their medication. “In this day and age, most people don’t even know their neighbors,” Flint said.

When Flint was married with small children and a new house, Michael knew his friend was struggling for money. At Thanksgiving, he would come by with a card with $400 in it for Christmas presents for the children. “He would insist I take it or he said he wouldn’t come by anymore,” Flint said.

“He was probably the most kind and generous person I have ever met,” Flint said. “I will never in my entire life meet another person like Michael Phillips again.”

Michael spent two years of discernment at the Franciscan seminary in Holyoke, Mass., but he found that his vocation lay elsewhere. He began working at Covenant House in New York City.

There, Michael counseled teenage girls who were pregnant, runaways, or trying to escape a life of prostitution. After two years, Michael returned home to work as a case worker for the Salvation Army in Binghamton.

He went on to earn a degree at Binghamton University and began working as an alcohol substance abuse counselor for Broome County Mental Health Forensic Unit. He worked with mentally ill and addicted people in the criminal justice system.

It was a job he told his father that he wasn’t sure he could handle.

“He was in with all these big tough guys, but he just had a way with them,” Deacon George said. “He said, ‘I just prayed that I could love them as much as Jesus loved them.’’’

In 2002, Michael was honored as Counselor of the Year.

“I’d walk with him on the streets of Binghamton and quite often some former client of his would come up and say, ‘Hi, Mike, I’ve been clean for so many years now,’” said Michael’s brother George K. Phillips. “He cared for people that no one else did.”

George said he also saw how passers-by would mock his brother for the cross he drew on the back of his clothing and for his frail body. From his 20s onward, Michael struggled with anorexia. At his healthiest, he weighed only around 120 pounds. At his sickest, his weight would plummet closer to 80 pounds. He was in and out of hospitals and treatment centers.

But the mockery of others and the illness he struggled with only served to deepen Michael’s faith.

He lived in an apartment that cost him about $200 a month in rent. The furnishings were sparse, but he had a prayer bench where he would spend the first hour and a half of every day.

“He had a real relationship with Christ. He lived it daily and it wasn’t fake,” his brother Chris said. “He always felt you were blessed to have faith.”

Michael taught his brothers how to pray to Jesus throughout the day and even encouraged them to pray for those who had been unkind to him.

His brother Robert said Michael also had a striking ability to listen.

“He was in the present moment and he was totally there listening and just empathizing and hearing you out,” Robert said. “You’d talk to him and his sole focus was on affirming you and making sure you were heard and understood. I think I’ve never had someone listen to me the way he did in my whole life.”

When he was well enough, Michael would meet with his father after the noon Mass on Sunday and walk the seven miles from Binghamton to Endwell. This was at a time when Deacon George had just retired.

“Life was changing a lot for me. I didn’t know what direction I was going in,” he said. Michael became his father’s spiritual director and encouraged him in his journey through the diaconate.

When Michael could no longer walk that distance, they would walk shorter distances. Eventually, he could only make it a few houses down the road. On Saturdays he would walk across the street to spend some time sitting with a widow who enjoyed the company.

“Some people might say he was odd, the way he didn’t have new clothes or buy things,” his brother George said. “He used to say did he not get it or did the rest of us not get it. You know, ‘Wait a minute, there are kids who are starving here and this is what we’re doing with our money?’”

Michael moved from his parents’ house back to his own apartment in the months before he died. One night in October, Deacon George had stopped by Michael’s apartment to help him with his groceries. Michael was too weak to put away the boxes and bottles, so Deacon George was putting them away for him.

“When I went to leave, he looked at me and he said, ‘Dad, I love you.’ And it was something that he normally said, but it was the only thing he said,” Deacon George said. “I think he knew.”

Deacon George called Chris to say that he should check on his brother, he didn’t look good.

When Chris arrived in Michael’s apartment, he found him kneeling in his prayer bench. He had died from heart failure due to his anorexia.

The night after he died, Chris and Deacon George were carrying out boxes of items from Michael’s apartment to donate to Catholic Charities when a woman came up to them.

“You don’t know me,” she said, “but Michael changed my life.”

She explained that she was a neighbor of Michael’s and that she had struggled for many years with an addiction to crack cocaine. Michael would walk by her house on his way home from work and say hello to her and her daughters. After a while, he would stop and sit on the porch with them to chat. Then the chats turned to talks. One day, he brought the woman a rosary.

This, she said, was the beginning of her recovery.

The woman brought a rosary of her own that she hoped to put in Michael’s casket. The one that Michael had given her, she said, she would keep with her the rest of her days.

Mother Dolores Hart Talks About Patricia Neal, Gary Cooper

National Catholic Register, August 25, 2010
By Tim Drake

When actress Patricia Neal died earlier this month, Mother Dolores Hart, the former actress-turned-nun, lost a friend. Neal was a frequent guest and supporter of the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Conn. Dolores Hart is known for starring opposite stars such as Elvis Presley, Montgomery Clift, and Robert Wagner. At the age of 25, she entered the Benedictine Order at Regina Laudis. She’s still a voting member of the Motion Picture Academy. Mother Dolores Hart spoke with me last week about being converted to Catholicism by sweet rolls and the role that she played in Neal’s coming into the Church.
I understand that you converted to Catholicism at the age of 10. How did that come about?
My grandmother sent me to a Catholic school because it was closer and I wouldn’t have to cross the street car tracks. By age 9 I was quite taken with the whole experience of the Catholic Church.
The kids at school would fast. After Mass they had chocolate milk and sweet rolls. Those of us who weren’t Catholic would eat our breakfast at home. I was jealous of those kids who had breakfast there, so I told Sister that I would love to have bread with the children.
She thought I meant something more high-minded and told the principal, “I think this girl is asking for the Eucharist.”
She asked me, “Dolores, do you want to stay and go to the classes?” I replied that I’d be happy to do that, I would just have to ask my grandmother. I told my grandmother that I could have breakfast at the school if I went to the classes, and she agreed. So, I began going to the religious classes and I began to like it. While I waited after school, I would sit in the chapel and pray to the Lord and I began to like that very much. Eventually, I got hooked, and before I knew it the “bread with the children” meant more to me than just the sweet rolls.

According to what I’ve read there were a couple of seeds to your religious vocation – one being the role of Pope John XXIII while you were filming St. Francis of Assisi and another being the film Lisa. Talk about what led to your vocation?
It was quite startling when I met his Holiness. I wasn’t prepared for it. When I greeted him I told him my name was Dolores Hart. He took my hands in his and said, “No, you are Clara.” I replied, “No, no, that’s my name in the film.” He looked at me again and said, “No, you are Clara.” I wanted to sink to the floor, because I wasn’t there to begin arguing with the Pope. It gave me great pause for a number of hours. Being young, I dismissed it as one of those things that happened, but it stayed very deeply in my mind for a long time.
I think the imprint of that came back very strongly when I did the film Lisa. People sometimes associate that moment of clarity with the film St. Francis of Assisi because it was such a direct association. That was so obvious that I dismissed it entirely. I would not even look at it.
When we did Lisa, the story of this young woman who had been so violated by her experience as a Nazi survivor, the experience of taking on that role was one that quite knocked my socks off. In preparation for that role, I found a woman who had been at Auschwitz. I talked to her about what her experience meant for her.
She spoke about when the Nazi guard came into her room to take over her house. The worst thing she could imagine was when he grabbed her braid, took his knife, and cut it off at the root. Then he shoved it into his pocket saying, ‘This is the souvenir of the day.’ She told me that nothing that could happen that day was worse than that moment.
I knew how much long hair meant. I went through St. Francis of Assisi wearing a wig so that they wouldn’t cut my hair. Hearing that story, I couldn’t retain any of my holding back. I realized that the human condition was in such terrible pain that I wondered what one person could do. What can one woman do to face that kind of evil? The only thing that came to me was: The consecration of a woman was the only way to fight that. You have to believe that giving your body into that kind of prayer has a meaning. I found that the sense of holding that experience kept pressuring me to want to do something and wanting to deeply make some kind of a stand.

I understand that you recently lost your friend, actress Patricia Neal.
We were on our way to see her in Martha’s Vineyard when we received the message that she had passed. I was completely dumbstruck, and yet at the same time it was in line with what she wanted. She had announced to everyone at the supper table the night before that she loved everyone. She was in great spirits and gave a beautiful farewell. The next day her lungs filled up and there was no way to get her back.

Did you play a role in her conversion?
Patricia was sent to the Abbey by Gary Cooper’s daughter, Maria. After Patricia’s divorce [from poet Roald Dahl], in desperation, she went to France. There, she ran into Maria at a hotel. Patricia told her her troubles and Maria said, “I am going to send you somewhere where I know that you are going to be helped.”
We helped her through a very long recovery. During that time she wrote her own book – As I Am – with the help of Mother Benedicta. She regained her acting wings and did a poetry reading for our Abbey fair, during which a huge thunderstorm took down our tent. Her response was to build the The Gary-The Olivia Performing Arts Center, so that would never happen again. She stayed with us over many months and returned often as a guest. She helped us by selling her book at the fair every summer.
She was the most faithful of human beings you could ever ask for. When I would inquire about her faith, she kept telling me, “Oh yes, I want to be Catholic, but not yet.” I would ask her, “What do you mean, not yet?” She said, “I like being Catholic when I’m here, but not when I’m not here.”
“That’s not going to do God any good,” would reply. “He wants you to be Catholic all the time.”
I didn’t believe in pushing her. Four months ago, when she was hospitalized with her illness, she called me and said she wanted to be a Catholic. She made the step at that time. She had waited a long time and finally threw in her towel on March 30, 2010.

Did you know Gary Cooper?
Yes. Every time I met him he was very gracious and charming to me. He always called me Miss Dolores. The last time I met him he was very close to his death. Maria invited me to go and see him. When I saw him I asked, “Gary, how are you?” He took my hand and said, “No, Miss Dolores, I want to know how you are? Have you gotten any work?”
I told him where I was in my career. He was so interested. I told him I wanted to know more about him. He said, “I’m on my way now. I just want to know if you’re doing well. That’s the most important thing.”
That was Gary. He was always interested in the other person.

Brewing a heartier faith: Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry offers Theology on Tap

July 30, 2009 The Catholic Sun
By Claudia Mathis, SUN staff writer

Kitty Hoynes Pub & Restaurant, Armory Square in Syracuse was the setting for some stimulating discussion about faith and daily life on July 9.

Siobhan Fallon Hogan

The discussion was sparked by a humorous and animated presentation by actress/comedienne Siobhan Fallon Hogan, who recently played secretary Blanche Gunderson in the movie "New In Town." Hogan discussed some of the acting roles she has played and how she has turned down a number of roles because they conflicted with her moral beliefs.

Hogan appeared on the television series "Saturday Night Live" in the early '90s and as Elaine's roommate on "Seinfeld." The talented performer has played memorable roles in such movies as "Forrest Gump," "Men in Black," "Daddy Day Care" and "Dogville."

She was born in Syracuse, grew up in Cazenovia and graduated from Le Moyne College. After earning a master's degree in fine arts from the Catholic University of America in 1972, Hogan trained with the prestigious off-Broadway Atlantic Theater Company. She currently resides with her husband Peter Hogan and their three children, Bernadette, Peter and Sinead, in Middletown, N.J.

Her presentation was the first in the Theology on Tap series offered by the diocesan Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry. The four-week summer program featured speakers, conversation and theology for young adults.

Bob Walters, director of the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, was very pleased with the turnout that evening. "I expected 25 young people to attend, but many more ended up coming," he said.

Dan Zinger, a prospective seminarian and a parishioner at St. Joseph the Worker Church in Liverpool, described Hogan's presentation that evening as "witty and very straight-forward."

"It's a secular world that we live in," said Zinger. "I wanted to see how a Hollywood star deals with standing up for her faith and values. It was nice to hear how she stands up for what she believes in."

Since its inception in the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1981, Theology on Tap has proven to be a successful vehicle for reaching young adults who are interested in learning more about their faith, coming together to share community and feeling welcomed and valued in the Catholic Church. It is a method of invitation, based on a spirit of hospitality, which creates a space for people in their 20s and 30s to explore how faith in Christ can speak to their circumstances.

The program has spread to more than 180 parishes and to other countries, including Canada, Italy, Taiwan, the Philippines, Ireland and Hong Kong.

Kristin McDermott, youth minister at St. Mary's in Minoa and St. Francis of Assisi in Bridgeport, said she brought two college-aged students with her to the event so they would have a chance to meet and mingle with other young people. "It's always good to share fellowship," McDermott said. "The atmosphere here at Kitty Hoynes and the context are good."

Hogan began her presentation by explaining how her parents raised her with great faith by setting a good example. "We always attended Mass and said the rosary, even on vacation," she recalled. "As a result, my faith has shaped the choices that I have made because it's so ingrained in me."

Hogan described how the director of her last movie, "New In Town," challenged her belief in Catholicism. At the beginning of the filming of the movie, her director asked Hogan and some of her fellow actors to meet him for dinner. When questioned by him about her Catholic faith, Hogan defended it. "I get challenged everywhere," said Hogan. "I think that people have the idea that you have to hide your faith, but I think that the more proud you are of it, people are not going to shun you or think badly of you. Don't be afraid of telling people about your faith."

She told those in attendance that her strong faith had helped her through some difficult situations. "Some crazy things have happened to me," she said. "But because of my prayer, faith, and commitment, things have worked out."

Hogan concluded her presentation by stressing the importance of following Christ in order to live a happy and simple life. "You can't help but make right decisions and your life will be easier for you," she said.

BU student finds career path through faith

Nov. 17, 2008 Press & Sun-Bulletin
Neighbors column by Valerie Zehl

Nick Rotella of Binghamton has plenty of choices in life.

Now a junior in political science at Binghamton University, Nick, 21, already has an extensive dossier: Seton Catholic Central athlete and graduate, ROTC participant, volunteer firefighter, solo European traveler, student schooling abroad.

"If I want to do it, I'll find a way to do it," he says of other travels he plans to undertake -- as well as his whole attitude about life.

He may opt for graduate studies, he says, and he's surveying career options in politics, the military and public service. But for longer than he can remember, there's one other career choice that has always been in the back of his mind -- and he hasn't ruled it out.
He's considering the priesthood.

Parents Jim and Cindy raised him to be a good Catholic, he says, and his grandparents left the imprint of their devoutness on his soul.

"Being in church around the Mass feels right," he says. He could also see himself as a Swiss guard at the Vatican — he saw Rome this year, too, in his travels — but he'd have to gain Swiss citizenship in order to qualify.

And that's not out of the question, if that's the course he chooses in life, he says.

For his confirmation name, he chose St. Sebastian, the patron saint of athletes and soldiers.

"He was a Roman soldier and showed you can be the epitome of a soldier but also be devout to God," Nick explains.

The late Pope John Paul II was a poster child for goodness, Nick says, while not pretending to be a perfect human being.

Father Robert Ours, who taught him at Seton, is someone he always looked up to, Nick says. He was accessible and understanding, and encouraged growth rather than bludgeoning students when they stumbled.

Nick's education left him more disciplined in body, mind and soul than he might otherwise have been, he says, and those qualities -- as well as the deep reverence he holds for the priesthood -- would serve him well, should he choose that path.

He's of mixed opinion on the issue of priests not being able to marry, but he doesn't think that will change any time soon, despite the scarcity of priests.

That wouldn't deter him, though. Attending Catholic schools from kindergarten forward also forged his character into that of a person who might be willing to set aside fatherhood for Fatherhood, focusing all his energy on his faith rather than a family, he says.

Neither would the scandals that rocked the church in recent years. He would expect himself to be above corruption, he says.

"As a priest, you're not just an ordinary person," he says. "You're a symbol. You can get yourself known and set an example."

He may pursue further education -- and even a career -- before he elects to wear the Roman collar. It's no longer universally recommended to enter seminary right after high school, as it was in years gone by.

And there's always the possibility, too, that he will find a soul mate before he commits to a life of celibacy.

But he sums up all his choices in one simple sentence.

"I leave that up to God to decide."

As Olympian, 'lost boy' looks to raise awareness about Darfur genocide

(NOTE: Olympic runner Lopez Lomong of Tully advanced Friday, Aug. 15, to the quarterfinals Sunday of the 1,500-meter race at the Olympics in Beijing.)

By Luke Eggleston, Catholic Sun

SYRACUSE -- In 2001, some "lost boys of Sudan" arrived in the U.S. and the first phase of their long run from the horrors of their homeland's civil war was fading in the distance.

For one boy resettled in the Syracuse Diocese, however, that year marked the beginning of a new run, both literally and figuratively.

This August, Lopez Lomong, a parishioner at St. Leo's Church in Tully, will have an opportunity to reach the pinnacle of his sport when he competes in the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing Aug. 8-24.

On Aug. 6 Lomong's teammates on the U.S. Olympic team chose him to carry the U.S. flag during the Aug. 8 opening ceremonies.

Lomong qualified for the 1,500-meter run by finishing third July 6 at the Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore.

Upon qualifying, Lomong promptly called his foster parents, Barb and Rob Rogers of Tully, and told them, "When you put God first in your life, anything is possible."

When Lomong arrived in central New York, he was immediately welcomed into the home of the Rogers family.

He was one of Sudan's more than 27,000 lost boys, so called because they were driven from their tribal villages and separated from their parents during the height of their country's civil war, from 1993 to 2003. After living for years in refugee camps, about 3,800 lost boys were resettled in the United States in 2001.

Lomong enrolled in Tully High School's summer school program and shortly thereafter began running cross-country and indoor and outdoor track.

As a student at Tully, Lomong earned nine varsity letters and was named team captain during all three of his years at the school. He holds several school records in cross-country, holds a record in the indoor mile event with a time of 4:10.12 and led Tully's 4x400 and 4x800 meter relay teams to state titles.

After graduation, Lomong went to Norfolk State University in Virginia where he competed on the team's NCAA Division 1 track and field team. Lomong then transferred to Northern Arizona University because he believed the program there would improve his chances of realizing a dream of competing in the Olympics.

Beyond his athletic prowess on the track and cross-country course, Lomong's exemplary drive inspired his teammates, according to Jim Paccia, who coached him for three years at Tully.

"Lopez's drive was internal. All the other guys on the team realized that and they stepped it up," Paccia told the Catholic Sun, newspaper of the Syracuse Diocese.

When runners complained about a particularly challenging run, Paccia said he reminded them about Lomong's own struggles in Sudan.

At age 6, Lomong and other children in his village were abducted by militia but he escaped through a hole in the camp wall and fled to Kenya where he was arrested and placed in a refugee camp. Finally, at age 16, Lomong was selected for relocation in the U.S.

Paccia, a parishioner at St. Patrick's Church in Otisco, said Lomong described his escaping from the Sudanese camp and then seeing his name among those chosen to go to the U.S. as "his two signs from God."

"He thought he was dead in that camp," Paccia said. "When he saw his name on that list and knew that he was going (to a new) home, that was a turning point."

Barb Rogers said that when Lomong was abducted he lost contact with his family and presumed they had died. Recently, however, Lomong was able to contact his biological parents. Rogers said he is determined to help them now.

In addition to competing for the U.S. in the upcoming Olympics, Lomong has been a member of Team Darfur, a coalition of international athletes committed to raising awareness about the genocide occurring in the Darfur region of Sudan.

"When we were in Africa, we didn't know what was there for us as kids -- we just ran," Lomong said on his Web site, "God was planning all of this stuff for me, and I didn't know. Now I'm using running to get the word out about how horrible things were back in Sudan during the war.

"Sometimes these things are not on CNN, so if I put out the word, I hope people can get the information. Right now, similar terrible things are going on in Darfur; people are running out of Darfur, and I put myself in their shoes," he said.

Pro soccer player retires

to enter priesthood

By JIMMY GOLEN, Associated Press, July 14, 2008

BOSTON — When he was playing professional soccer in Chile, Chase Hilgenbrinck would seek comfort in the churches to satisfy his spiritual needs and remind him of childhood Sundays spent at Holy Trinity in his hometown of Bloomington, Ill.

Even after moving back to the United States last Christmas to play Major League Soccer — a dream of his, but just one of them — Hilgenbrinck felt the pull of his religion.

"I felt called to something greater," Hilgenbrinck said. "At one time I thought that call might be professional soccer. In the past few years, I found my soul is hungry for something else.

"I discerned, through prayer, that it was calling me to the Catholic Church. I do not want this call to pass me by."

Hilgenbrinck accepted the calling on Monday when he left the New England Revolution and retired from professional soccer to enter a seminary, where he will spend the next six years studying theology and philosophy so he can be ordained as a Roman Catholic priest.

"It's not that I'm ready to leave soccer. I still have a great passion for the game," he said in a telephone interview. "I wouldn't leave the game for just any other job. I'm moving on for the Lord. I want to do the will of the Lord, I want to do what he wants for me, not what I want to do for myself."

A 26-year-old defender who was the captain of the Revolution's reserve team, Hilgenbrinck will attend Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md. After finishing his studies, he will report to his home parish in Peoria, Ill., for assignment.

"He said it was time for him, that he had been thinking long and hard," New England vice president of player personnel Michael Burns said. "Purely from a Revs standpoint, it's too bad. But a lot of players leave the game not on their own terms. He's clearly left on his own terms, which is great for him."

Raised in a Catholic family of regular churchgoers, Hilgenbrinck played soccer at Clemson and hooked on with the Chilean first division after he went unpicked in the 2004 MLS draft.

Far from home, he began to seek out familiar surroundings.

"I fell back on what I knew, and that was the Catholic Church," he said. "I grew up as a Catholic. I was always involved in the church, went to Catholic schools. It was when I got out on my own that my faith really became mine. I really embraced it. I didn't have to go to church any more, I was free to really believe what I wanted to believe.

"I looked to strengthen my personal relationship with Christ. And when my personal life started to flourish, I couldn't turn my back on that relationship."

Hilgenbrinck was signed and cut by the Colorado Rapids before he landed with the Revolution. He played in four MLS games for New England and started in both of the Revolution's U.S. Open Cup matches this month.

Although he has felt the calling for some time, Hilgenbrinck also knew it would be easier to continue playing soccer. He tried to convince himself that he was not ready, not deserving, or not in a hurry.

"I was putting up a bunch of barriers, saying I'm not worthy to be called to something like that," he said. "But, one by one, the barriers started to come down."

With a short window in which he will be able to play professional sports, he considered postponing the priesthood until after his career was over. But he decided with the same certainty that he could not allow himself to wait.

"Trust me, I thought of that," said Hilgenbrinck, who in his studies came across the saying, "Delayed obedience is disobedience."

"We are all called to do something. I feel like my specific call is to the priesthood. So, no, it was not possible to continue with soccer. It's absolutely inevitable."

Hilgenbrinck had his initial interview for the seminary last July, followed by a rigorous application process. There were written tests, personality screenings, background checks, fingerprinting and meetings with three different psychiatrists to make sure he had the right temperament to be a priest.

At first, he told no one, lest they influence him one way or the other: "I really wanted it to be a decision between me and God," he said.

There were more tests in January, and in March Hilgenbrinck learned he had been accepted to the seminary. A few weeks ago, he met with Burns and Revolution coach Steve Nichol.

"We weren't exactly sure what he was going to say, because it's not what you usually hear," Burns said. "When he said it, I was glad. I was glad for him. This is something that he clearly wants to do, and we wish him all the best."