National Vocation Awareness Week Story: From the NFL to the Seminary

“You’re going to have a great career in the NFL, Nick.” As I approached the end of my successful college football career at Temple University, I heard such statements from coaches, teammates and others. I felt confident that following my final football season which ended in December of 2017, my childhood goal of becoming a professional football player in the National Football League would become a reality. And following the 2018 NFL draft, it did. In the presence of all my loved ones, I received a call from the Oakland Raiders and signed a three-year contract with the team as a free agent. It was a blessed moment, and I thought my life was set. I would play football for a few years, retire and then – who knows.

After having just completed my second year in seminary at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia as a seminarian for the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, it’s obvious that God had a plan for my life that did not involve playing football. At first, I did not want to believe that the thousands of hours of training, overcoming injuries, and all the providential circumstances of my journey that led to that moment of my signing with the Raiders, would not actually result in that successful football career that seemed so certain. Shortly after signing with the Raiders, I was let go to free up roster space so that the team could bring in other players. Strangely, I was unbothered. I was confident that I would sign with another team soon. I never did sign with another team, however, and as more time passed, that confidence waned. It was during that period of staying in shape and waiting for a call from an NFL team that I, perhaps for the first time, heard the Lord’s call. And honestly, I wasn’t very excited about what I heard.  

I had always imagined myself playing football. Any other course for my life seemed to me like a step in the wrong direction. As for the Catholic faith, I have always had a stable connection to it. My ten siblings and myself had been raised with it. My parents met in our Ukrainian Catholic Church and have been more influential to my faith and character than I can say. Still, I felt I was being called to embrace the faith I had been gifted more deeply and not just keep it at a comfortable arm’s length. So, I began my new walk with Christ in November of 2019 by making the best confession I possibly could. It might have been the first time I ever truly wanted to go to confession of my own volition, and perhaps one of the most grace-filled experiences I can recall. Regarding God and Catholicism, I knew that I believed, but I wanted to know what exactly I believed and why I believed it. Looking back, I know that Jesus had entrusted my journey in a special way to his own mother. In December of 2019, I had a strong desire to start praying the rosary which I had never done before. Not long after, I began to hear the Lord’s call, not in an audible way, but through gentle, persistent thoughts about the priesthood. Those thoughts made me uncomfortable at first, so I tried my best to suppress them. The priesthood was simply too different from how I imagined my life potentially unfolding. I was still holding onto my football hopes but at the same time the Lord had lit a fire in my soul for the faith. I began to read for the first time outside of an academic context and had all the time in the world to do it. While I waited for a football call, I read through the entire Bible, catechism and countless other books. I couldn’t get enough of learning about the richness, depth and beauty of the Church that our Lord Himself had founded. I began to attend all the available Divine Liturgies at my parish throughout the week, began praying more and started going to confession every 2-4 weeks. Finally, taking inspiration especially from the writings and examples of the saints, I accepted that the Lord might be calling me to the priesthood. What was frightening at first became an exciting prospect.

I eventually applied to the seminary and officially began in the Fall semester of 2021. There’s much more I could say about my journey to the seminary but what stands out to me most is God’s patience and how powerful His grace is. I initially rejected the idea of becoming a priest and somehow, He has been able to completely reorder my desires. Despite the initial challenges, these past few years have been incredibly blessed. I am very thankful for the immense support I have received from my parents, family, friends, parishioners at my church, the Archeparchy of Philadelphia and others. I am also very grateful to St. Charles Borromeo Seminary for having me. I did not know what to expect at the seminary, but my main takeaway is that everyone there is on-fire for Christ and His Church – the priests, staff, and especially the seminarians. It’s been inspiring to be surrounded by a group of guys with such strong love for our Lord and our Lady. If my short experience at St. Charles is any indicator of the future of the Church, come what may, I am very hopeful. I cannot thank you enough for your prayers. I would not be at this point in my journey without them.

Nicholas Sharga

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