‘Why are you Catholic?’
How that one question from one special person made Sean Hussey, a record-breaking high school quarterback who played at the University of Illinois, fall in love with the faith, work for the Church, and now teach theology at St. Anthony High School in Effingham
By ANDREW HANSEN
One thing Sean Hussey is known for at Charleston High School is dominance. A 2013 graduate, Hussey spent many Friday nights tearing apart defenses as a star quarterback. A First Team All-State selection, he holds records for passing yards, touchdowns, and completions in a game, season, and career at the school. After graduation, he then made the University of Illinois football team as a walk-on quarterback before transferring to Eastern Illinois University.
While his mind as a teenager was focused on athletics, he was going through the motions of living our faith. That’s when one special person asked a very simple but profound question that led him on a journey he would never expect, including becoming a theology teacher at St. Anthony High School in Effingham this year.
Catholic Times editor Andrew Hansen interviewed Hussey to share his story of how falling in love with our faith changed everything.
Q. You grew up in a Catholic household and went to Mass every Sunday and would go to confession, but despite that, you have said during that time in your life, “Your heart was far from God. You had no relationship with Him.”
A. My parents are unbelievable people. “Saints” Kevin and Kathy. They taught me and my four older siblings to love God, and that was clearly the priority of their life. So, I had a really solid foundation of what should be the priority or what should be essential to my life. For whatever reason, especially in middle school and high school, during these high school football days, being Catholic to some degree was important to me. I would lead prayers before and after the game and that would become a tradition, so there was clearly something in me my parents fostered, but I was living this double life. Going through the motions, I didn’t really see, while important, how it (the Catholic faith) really applied to my life. So, on the one hand, professing to be a Christian, but I lived another way and became entrenched in a life of sin, a life of selfishness, and my life was fixed on “all about me.” I’ve heard the more entrenched we are in sin, the more rational it becomes, and that was where I was at in high school.
Q. It was your senior year in high school when a question was asked of you from someone you least expected. A classmate, Paige, who was a prayerful Protestant and one you were interested in, asked you, “Why are you Catholic?” Take us back to that moment, what you remember?
A. The more I thought (about that question), the more it hit me. For whatever reason, that was never a question that I ever considered. She loved Jesus, and she was pursuing a relationship with Him, and that was a really clear part about her life, and there was something about her life I was attracted to beyond just her physical beauty, and that was it — that she was different than my other classmates. She prayed every day, and she read Scripture every day, which are two things I never thought of doing.
From her perspective, (asking that question) didn’t come from a place of hostility necessarily. She just didn’t see how somebody could claim to follow Jesus and be a Catholic. So, she wanted to know why I was Catholic.
Do you remember what you said?
Nothing good. I think I said my family is Catholic, and I’m raised Catholic, but I don’t know, and beyond that, I’m not really sure why. As soon as I left (for college), this question was going through my mind, and I started to spend a lot of time thinking about it and diving more into that question.
Q. Tangibly, that simple question then started a whole new journey for you?
A. Because of the foundation I had, I never considered not going to Mass. So, I continued to do that. Meanwhile that summer, I had a real intellectual pursuit of that question, and the first place I did that was reading Scripture for the first time on my own, especially the New Testament. I was very moved by the New Testament and Jesus, the Apostles, and their writings. I was convinced I was seeing Catholicism everywhere. These things that I grew up being taught, things like the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, the necessity of baptism, the necessity to confess our sins — all these things I was seeing reading the New Testament. Paige (who I was dating then) was reading the New Testament so I thought this is a great place to start, and we read through it together. As I was having this intellectual discovery, I was having this intellectual conversion. I became not only convinced of Catholicism, but the foundation of Catholicism, Jesus Christ.
I remember some Tuesday morning before workout, going to the chapel on campus, and having my first honest confession. If this is true, and I believe it is true, then my life needs to look different, and what I need first is mercy.
Q. After college, you worked for a parish in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and then for the diocese itself in ministry. Were you expecting to work for the Church?
A. Early on after that conversion, I never expected it. But there was a person I met who really made an impact on my desire to want to work for the Church, and his name is Norm. I met him actually at the University of Illinois. Norm is a Protestant Christian. Norm really discipled me. Norm was just a model for me on what it looked like to be a disciple. Norm taught me not only to know things about Jesus, he taught me how to follow Him. How to cultivate a daily prayer life, how to read Scripture every day, how to make Scripture an essential part of your life, how to hear God’s voice through Scripture, and how to witness your faith.
That kind of approach is what I became attracted to. I had the opportunity in college to do that with my peers, to meet with people one-on-one, to lead small groups and things like that, and throughout that time, I really felt like the Lord was calling me to that for a career.
Q. This year, you are teaching theology at St. Anthony High School in Effingham. Why did you choose to teach theology and come back to Central Illinois?
A. The Lord opened some doors to make that happen. I feel like the Lord is asking me to share the Gospel with my life and make sure I am doing that in the context of relationships and certainly what I was doing with the Archdiocese allowed me to do that. I wasn’t really looking to leave the position I was in actually, but at the same time, I got married to Paige, we have two little kids now, and we had been praying intentionally the past couple of years for an opportunity to move closer to Charleston. I didn’t know how that would work out but if God wanted us to come back, He would open up a door. Father Michael Berndt (parochial vicar at St. Anthony Parish), a friend of mine, called me and told me about this position. There were a lot of things that looked like this wouldn’t work out, but all the doors, the Lord opened those, and a great opportunity for us to continue to work for the Church and move closer to home.
Q. So many young adults and teens who are Catholic are not practicing our faith. How do you hope to bring them back as a theology teacher?
A. Pope Benedict XVI said that being a Christian is not the result of being an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but it’s an event, it’s an encounter with a person. I have a relationship with Jesus Christ. I don’t have a relationship with theology. Jesus is who set me free. St. Paul says in Galatians, “It is for freedom (that) Christ has set us free.” More than anything, I hope to introduce students to the person and the work of Jesus Christ. Hopefully anything I say or the theology we study is just a means to an end, a means to encounter Jesus more fully in their life. Hopefully, I can model what it looks like.
Q. You are now married to Paige as you mentioned, who also converted to Catholicism. You have two children. In a culture that is seeing less people get married and so many broken marriages, you two are embracing the sacrament. What has made marriage special for you?
A. Paige is an amazing woman, and I love being married to her because she leads me closer to Jesus every day. That is what marriage is all about. It’s a vocation. It’s something we discern. I have discerned the call to the vocation of marriage. Being married to Paige, we have a responsibility, primarily, to lead each other closer to Christ. it was important for us to get married in the Church because it’s not about us but a unified pursuit of Christ, and together we can help in leading one another and our children to Heaven.
Q. You are also the host of a popular podcast called Cold Brews and Catholic Truths with more than 15,000 subscribers. Why did you start it, and what is it all about?
A. I felt like I was given certain gifts to teach, and I would love to share some of the things in my own conversion and make a few videos about those things. So, I made a few videos and put them on YouTube. I thought probably no one would see them but some friends and family would and that will lead to some good conversations, and that would be it. Then, COVID shut the world down and we were at home and my wife sat me down and she said that she thinks I have gifts to speak and to share the Gospel and talk about the truth of Catholicism, and I should take that YouTube Channel a little more seriously. Initially, I was not that interested because it sounded like a lot of work, which it is. Providentially, one of those videos I made six months (prior), caught some traction and started to take off on YouTube. It seemed like a clear sign to commit to doing one a week and see how this goes. It was out a desire to share the beauty and truth of Catholicism, and specifically some of the things I have found so convincing that have brought me so much joy to my life as a Catholic.
Q. What is your message to teens and young people today who seem to only care about becoming a celebrity and have become so disconnected from faith?
A. All of those things will pass away. St. Paul says that the things that are seen and are transient are passing. It’s the things that are unseen that are eternal. Our identity is being a child of God. That is the only thing that can never be taken away from us.
Blessed Chiara Badano (1971-1990) was a young teenager, a beautiful woman, was very popular, had a lot of friends, was an athlete, was good at tennis, and had a lot of going for her in the eyes of the world and a lot of these things we seek after. In the midst of all that, she was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor/cancer. She started to lose all these things she could have defined herself by. She started to lose her physical appearance, she started losing her hair, she started to lose friends and popularity and relationships, and lost her athletic ability. Ultimately, she lost her life. But, in the midst of that tremendous suffering, she was somebody who knew that as good as any of those things are, all of those things can and will pass away, but my identity as a daughter of God cannot. She had this deep sense of joy, this deep sense of peace that no matter what things she lost in this world, she knew she would never lose her relationship with Christ. So, don’t seek after those things. Seek after the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.
Q. So, when you think back to that question Paige asked you in high school, “Why are you Catholic?” what is your response today?
A. Because Catholicism is true. G.K. Chesterton said that there are 10,000 reasons why I am Catholic all amounting to one reason which is that Catholicism is true. I believe that Jesus is God, I believe that Jesus came in the flesh to redeem us from our sins, to reconcile man back to God. The good news is that God demonstrates His love for us and while we are sinners, Christ died for me. I am so grateful for the gift of salvation and the fullness of that gift is given to us in the Catholic Church, the Church Jesus Himself established. He gives His grace to us through the Church and through the sacraments. So, those are the reasons I am Catholic.
Answers taken and edited from Andrew Hansen’s interview with Sean Hussey on Dive Deep, the official podcast of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. To hear their full conversation, go to dio.org/podcast or search “Dive Deep” on all the major podcast platforms.