Since then, Hilgenbrinck has curtailed his public exposure to devote more time to becoming a priest.
“It was crazy,” said Hilgenbrinck, who grew up in Bloomington, Ill. “But at the time, I thought that was normal. I thought that was normal for me because when I was a soccer player, I was doing interviews every day. ... I’m grateful for the wisdom of my [advisers] who said, ‘You can’t keep this pace up.’ ”
Many professional athletes have gone into the ministry, but few walk away from their sport in their prime, as Hilgenbrinck did in 2008 when he was a defender for the New England Revolution.
As Hilgenbrinck said at the time, his decision to become a priest was a gradual one. Now three years into his studies at the Emmitsburg, Md., seminary, he says he has no regrets.
That isn’t to say he doesn’t miss soccer. Hilgenbrinck, who also serves as the chaplain for the Mount St. Mary’s soccer team, trains with the team, keeps in touch with his former teammates and watches soccer on television.
“I certainly do miss it,” he said. “It is a part of me I’ll always love.”
Hilgenbrinck will be ordained in May 2014. Then it will be up to his bishop where he serves God. Of the many options, it is clear where his heart lies.
“To live in a parish and be a kind of shepherd of a flock and guiding people every single day in a daily Mass, meeting them in the most important times of their life — in baptism, in their marriage, in their death — being with someone their entire life, and getting to know families and leading them to holiness and a life with Christ, that’s what this is all about,” he said.
When asked what he enjoys most about being at the seminary, he says, “the peace that I feel in my life.
“I truly mean that. I feel a peace in my life now more than I ever have. When I was living my dream [of playing professional soccer], I thought I had everything that I ever wanted, and I wasn’t at peace like I am now.”