Soccer-star-turned-priest Father Chase inspires Aintree parish

'Energy, vitality and charisma'

The parish of Blessed Sacrament, Aintree, and nearby schools have been blessed with a visit from Father Chase Hilgenbrinck, the former US Major League Soccer player who quit professional football in order to become a priest.

Father Chase flew in from Chicago in mid-May to inspire parishioners and young people alike with what one Blessed Sacrament parishioner termed 'energy, vitality and charisma reminiscent of the Holy Spirit's effect on the disciples'.

The 36-year-old former United States youth international came for the weekend of Pentecost – 18, 19 and 20 May – and spoke at all three Masses of the Solemnity at Blessed Sacrament. After the Saturday-evening service Fr Chase gave a presentation and took part in a Q&A during a special reception in the parish centre.

Here the Diocese of Peoria priest, currently serving as assistant chaplain at Saint John's Catholic Newman Center in Champaign, Illinois, discussed his faith journey, while his parents cum travel companions for the trip, Mike and Kim, talked about their experience of his vocational journey.

Fr Chase also gave his testimony to young people at school assemblies in Archbishop Beck Catholic Sports College, Savio Salesian College and Blessed Sacrament Primary School. He made a powerful impact at all three schools on the Friday of his visit – describing how he had left behind a contract with MLS club New England Revolution to study for the priesthood at a seminary in Maryland. Given his previous career, the ex-defender also directed a football training clinic for Savio and Archbishop Beck pupils.

On the Saturday, before he presided and preached at the Pentecost Masses, he led a youth rally held at Blessed Sacrament Primary for local youngsters which culminated in an open-air Mass.

It was during Fr Chase's successful spell in Chilean soccer with Ñublense – a team he helped win promotion to Chile's top division – that he heard a small inner voice telling him 'Be my priest'. It was a call he resisted for two and a half years until he finally accepted the Lord's invitation.
On his subsequent flight home, Fr Chase wrote a message to the parish community and another to the youth of Blessed Sacrament, highlighting how he had arrived as a perfect stranger and was leaving deeply impressed by the life he had shared with them. He also encouraged the young people to start a revolution that would set a precedent for young adults practising their faith.