Recently on The Cale Clarke Show, Cale hosted the chaplain of the Villanova University Wildcats, Fr. Rob Hagan, to talk about apostolate, faith, and the way he incorporates Augustinian friendship into his role with student-athletes.
Fr. Rob has obviously done a spectacular job in his role because the Villanova University Wildcats are the last Catholic school left in the tournament and they are headed to the Final Four!
After graduating from law school in 1990, Fr. Rob was an attorney for seven years before realizing his true vocation. He was ordained to the priesthood in 2003 and came to Villanova that very same year. He currently serves as the chaplain to both the football and men’s basketball programs, as well as the Senior Associate Athletic Director which oversees student-athlete welfare.
Fr. Rob said that upon observing priests and chaplains throughout his life, he saw a lot of them spend much of their time in chapels and churches, praying in solitude. While there is certainly nothing wrong with that, he knew that he wasn’t called to be a parish priest. He wanted to go out into the world, meet people where they are, and encounter them in their daily lives, in his case specifically, the world of athletics. That was what led him to the Augustinian Order. It wasn’t necessarily an alluring lifestyle, but that wasn’t what he wanted. He was searching for a fulfilling purpose.
Being a criminal defense lawyer for seven years, Fr. Rob had firsthand experience dealing with people who may have made bad choices in their lives and he used that opportunity to do apostolate, lead them back to the Lord, and give them closure for their mistakes. He said that for those who didn’t know him, leaving the law for the priesthood was shocking. But for those who did, it was a natural transition to the next step.
One of the most important quotes that Fr. Rob said has influenced his vocation and his call to apostolate is from St. Augustine. He says, “For you, I am a bishop. With you, I am a Christian.” It struck Fr. Rob because it tells of the idea that we are all in this together, no matter your circumstances. We will all suffer. We will all make mistakes, great and small. An integral part to being a chaplain to a team or organization is the necessity for friendship.
“We find God in the company of friends,” said Fr. Rob. Cale pointed to the phenomenon coined by an author known as Friendship Deficit Disorder (FDD), a problem especially prevalent among young males in today’s generation. He asked Fr. Rob if the Augustinian concepts of friendship were woven into the educational system at Villanova. “100%, Cale. It’s spot on. The Augustinian pedagogy is what makes a Villanova experience what it is.” He said that Augustinian community isn’t just a noun, but a verb. It’s a proactive experience, not a passive one. The word villanova literally translates to “new home”, something Fr. Rob has sought to permeate throughout the school, especially in his role as athletic director and chaplain.
To him, university isn’t just a place you go to school. Yes, there’s work to be done, but certainly more important than that is your spiritual growth, your friendships, your personal call to holiness, and your maturation into the person God called you to be.
Speaking briefly about the NCAA March Madness Tournament, Fr. Rob mentioned that very often, the tournament lines up directly with the Lenten Season. Providentially, there are so many Lenten values that can be applied to the process of playing through the tournament like reconciliation, personal growth, preparation, and self-improvement. In both realms, one is striving to be the best version of themselves so that they can reach the finish line, the end goal.
Fr. Rob likened the ideal mindset of the players to the way Peter acted when Jesus called him out of the boat to walk on water. Are you hyperfocused on how many points you can score, about how many minutes you played, or about whether you’ll get drafted or not? You’ll fall below the surface. Or are you thinking about playing to praise the One who gave you the strength and ability to run and dribble and shoot and dunk? Your faith in Christ will let you walk on that water.
Listen to the full segment below:
Tune in to The Cale Clarke Show weekdays at 5pm CT