Football-Playing Seminarian Tells of Return From Hell’s Doorstep

Chad Cheramie Jr. finds peace of mind in silent adoration.

Chad Chermaie Jr., shown in the back row, third from left, along with seminarians from the Diocese of Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana, is pursuing his vocation after many years of much focus on football.
Chad Chermaie Jr., shown in the back row, third from left, along with seminarians from the Diocese of Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana, is pursuing his vocation after many years of much focus on football. (photo: Courtesy of Chad Cheramie)

From the very start of his high-school career, Chad Cheramie Jr. became known as a football player. The offensive lineman made the varsity team in his freshman year — an uncommon feat — and continued to succeed on the field.

Cheramie’s life off the field, however, was another story. Things got so bleak, in fact, that they almost ended in an early death. The turning point came when Cheramie said a prayer that “gave God another chance” and eventually led the athlete to making mission trips with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). Today, Cheramie’s faith journey continues at St. Joseph Abbey and Seminary College in Covington, Louisiana.

Cheramie spoke with the Register about his growing relationship with Christ and other aspects of the Catholic faith in what would have been his junior year of football at Nicholas State University (NSU) in Thibodaux, Louisiana.

 

Of all the sports to play, what drew you to football?

I mostly played baseball and basketball growing up. I wasn’t that big of a kid until junior-high school, which is also when football came into the picture. In eighth grade I was 6 feet tall and was an offensive lineman. At that point, it was kind of easy to overpower opponents simply because of a size advantage. In high school there were bigger and stronger opponents, so I learned how to use technique to gain the advantage. Even though I did grow to 6 feet, 4 inches, and 280 pounds, hand placement, leverage, foot movement and things like that really played a huge role in getting better.

 

Were you able to connect faith and football growing up?

I grew up Catholic, but around age 10 to 12 I stopped going to church. Eventually football became my way of life, or religion. I made it on varsity as a freshman in high school and was known by everyone as a football guy. That was my whole identity, the one thing I thought of myself as being and the one thing most people saw me as.

I lived the stereotypical jock life of partying, which seems fun on a superficial level, but it left me miserable. I was looking for ultimate happiness in places it could not be found. I became very disappointed in myself and in others. I was angry at God and even came very close to taking my life.

It was at that lowest point in my senior year of high school, where I almost lost everything. At that critical moment I decided to stop and pray. I “gave God another chance,” as far as showing that he is real and does have a purpose for me beyond football.

 

Even though full knowledge and deliberate consent need to be present for a gravely immoral act to be a mortal sin, that reminds me of the saying of St. Alphonsus Liguori that has been placed in the section of the Catechism on prayer: “Those who pray are certainly saved; those who do not pray are certainly damned” (2744).

Prayer is the key to everything, really. If you don’t pray, you can’t know or do God’s will, which is a sure way to despair; but if you do pray, you can know and do God’s will, which is the only route to abiding happiness.

Even though God answered my prayer and I was able to see that there just might be happiness out there, things did not immediately become all pleasant. In fact, the very next day at school, things got worse. On the inside, I was starting the slow process back to happiness, but on the outside, it was like Satan was using other people in an attempt to push me back toward despair.

A classmate noticed that something was troubling me, so she suggested that I join Fraternus, an organization that aims to help Catholic boys become Catholic men through mentorship. Her dad was actually the local chapter head, so she was able to connect me with them. I started going to confession and Mass again and started praying more frequently. I read the Bible and basically learned more about being Catholic — and being happy. 

It’s paradoxical, but the less you think of yourself, the more content you’ll be. That’s what happened when I began to help others, show respect when none was shown to me, and do other things that might be tough sometimes but that really result in happiness.

 

How did you get to the point of entering the seminary?

After high school I played a year of football at NSU. Then l left football, but took another year of classes. It was in that second year that I realized seminary just might be the place for me. I had gotten so much assistance from FOCUS and Varsity Catholic, which is the athletic division of FOCUS. Garrett Land, the FOCUS leader at Nichols, has become a great buddy of mine. I was also able to meet Thomas Wurtz, who started Varsity Catholic. Through him I was able to share my conversion story with more people, and then I went on mission trips to Trinidad and Tobago, and then Mexico. All this exposure to new ideas and new people made me see how important the priesthood is. I’m still discerning, but even if I don’t end up getting ordained, I have found the first few months at seminary very valuable.

 

Had you read about former Georgia Tech punter Grant Aasen, who left football for the seminary,or former college quarterbacks Father Joe Fitzgerald, Father Joe Freedy and Father Thomas Haan?

I hadn’t heard about them until recently, but I did know Thomas’ story — and Patrick Towles’ and Keegan Ruddy’s. It’s a plus to know of other athletes who’ve become priests, or at least entered seminary or have become involved in Catholic ministry or apostolates. You can see it’s been done before, so your own path becomes that much easier.

 

Do you have any favorite books or other media that have helped you see the importance of the priesthood?

I really like Scott Hann’s podcast. Pretty much anything he’s involved with goes well. He not only has a great grasp on the Catholic Church’s teachings, but he delivers them in an engaging way.

I’ve also found the book In Sinu Jesu, written by a Benedictine monk and recommended to me by Father Patrick Riviere from the Aquinas Center at NSU, to be very inspiring. I used to think of the Eucharist as a symbol, but that holy book certainly doesn’t display my former lack of faith. A similarly helpful book isJesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist by Dr. Brant Pitre.

 

Another Catholic “football guy” in Louisiana who liked that book was New Orleans Saints’ QB coach Joe Lombardi. 

I’ve read Dr. Pitre’s book four times and am so thankful for the insights in it that easily lead the reader to the conclusion that Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist is the living fulfillment of what took place in Old Testament times.

We are so fortunate as Catholics to be taken above and beyond what had been paving the way for our salvation, to the very life of God himself.

 

Do you have a patron saint — maybe St. Chad of Mercia, the unofficial patron of contested elections?

Actually, Chad is a family name. I share it with my father. St. Michael the Archangel might be the intercessor I’m most thankful for — aside from the Blessed Mother. I think he had a role in bringing me back into God’s grace and has a role in keeping me in it. The spiritual life is a real battle, and St. Michael knows how to win it.

My last name is taken from the French for “dear friend,” and the dearest friend anyone could ever have is Jesus, whose love for us is so great that he hid his divinity through the Incarnation and now hides even his humanity through transubstantiation. It shows incomparable humility for God to become one of us, but what can you even start to say about a God who would willingly appear to be a piece of bread for our own good?

That thought draws us to Mass, to adoration outside of Mass, and to a way of life that is more silent, noble, integrated and joyful. There’s a real peace of mind that comes from being united to Jesus in the Eucharist. That relationship, above all others, determines our happiness.

Register correspondent Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.

His book Fit for Heaven (Dynamic Catholic, 2015)
contains numerous Catholic sports interviews,
most of which have appeared in the Register.

His latest book is Apostolic Athletes.