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From Gridiron to Genuflections: Jordan Roberts Trades Scholarship for Seminary

Michael Martin CC

John Burger - published on 11/29/15

Personal crisis led him to a deeper faith, and that opened him up to a calling beyond football

Some people will say “right place, right time.” Others will say “providence.”

Division III football star Jordan Roberts had just been through an extremely trying time in his life. Within a short space of time, his six-year relationship with his girlfriend fell apart, his best friend took his life and his parents divorced.

The “perfect storm” made Roberts “search for answers,” he said in an interview with USA Today.

Roberts was playing for the University of South Dakota, and teammates introduced him to a Bible study class sponsored by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, or FOCUS.

The Sheridan, Wyo., native had grown up in a believing family, but one that never joined an organized religion.

“Slowly, I started to love the faith and love the Bible study I was in,” he said. “It gave me so much hope. It really helped me through the situation I was in, to put it bluntly.”

Roberts accepted the group’s invitation to attend SEEK, a national conference for college students in January 2013 in Orlando. When he returned, he said in the interview, “I was on cloud nine.”

And about nine months later he became a Catholic.

But he felt a pull to go further:

“As I healed and recovered and learned more, I started to have thoughts and feelings coming out about possibly joining the priesthood,” he said. “That was definitely coming from God. I kind of kept them in for a long time. I didn’t want to talk about them with anybody. But he kept putting priesthood in my heart.”

Roberts met on a regular basis with Father Jeff Norfolk, the chaplain at South Dakota’s Newman Center, and finally he confided that he was feeling a call to the priesthood. The two paid a visit to St. John Vianney Seminary, on the campus of the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. Roberts said he “absolutely fell in love with it—the structure, the brotherhood and the school.” He gave up his football scholarship at South Dakota to enter the largest college seminary in the country.

He hasn’t given up football altogether, though. He plays for the Tommies, where he is top rusher and scorer. He’s also majoring in health promotion and philosophy.

“My coaches know seminary always comes first, but the opposite is true as well,” said Roberts, 22. “If I have to miss something in the seminary every now and then to be at football, they’re OK with that too.”

Said Father Michael Becker, St. John Vianney’s rector: “The natural discipline of sports—daily practicing, stretching your limits, the competition of others but maintaining good sportsmanship—are a good foundation for grace in a spiritual life. It gives you other things too–friendships, relationships, being proud of certain accomplishments. So we support seminarians who want to play sports, and make various compromises to do so.”

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