Former soccer standout scores goal of priesthood
by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Robert Zarse used to tell his sons that the greatest gift God could give them was a call to the priesthood.
Deacon Jaime Zarse thought that call wouldn’t come to him. After all, he had other interests.
“When I was young, all I cared about was my girlfriend and soccer,” he said. “I had a very typical high school adolescence experience.”
Much to his surprise, and after a few unexpected detours off his life script, Deacon Zarse entered the seminary and will be ordained a priest this month.
The Zarse family moved around a bit — nine times before Deacon Zarse was in the fifth grade. Although not necessarily rooted geographically, the Zarses were rooted in the Catholic faith.
His dad “worked his tail off,” said Deacon Zarse, but God was first in their family.
“We’d go to Mass every Sunday and pray before meals and bed every night as a family, and my dad taught me to pray the rosary when I was eight or 10 years old,” said Deacon Zarse. “That was very significant to me. I attribute most of my vocation to Mary’s intercession, because I feel it was Mary who brought me to her son.”
Deacon Zarse is one of the five children of Robert and Alicia Zarse. The family eventually settled in Overland Park, and Deacon Zarse went to Prince of Peace School in Olathe and graduated from St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park in 2005.
Growing up, Deacon Zarse developed into quite a fine soccer player, and it seemed to be his ticket to bigger and better things.
“I always played on very competitive teams [in the Kansas City area],” he said. “That gave me the opportunity, at one point, to travel to Europe and play soccer in Great Britain right before high school.”
“I went to St. Thomas Aquinas, and there’s a huge soccer tradition there,” he continued. “I got to play at the varsity level for all four years.”
After graduation, he got a soccer scholarship to Marquette University, a Jesuit-affiliated institution in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
“I played soccer in the Big East, which was an awesome experience,” said Deacon Zarse. “I got to travel to some of the major Division I athletic programs and facilities in the nation.”
But after his second year at Marquette, things changed. The team lost a lot of games and the soccer coach was fired. The new coach, who wanted to build his own team, didn’t want Zarse in his program.
“At the time that was very humbling,” said Deacon Zarse. “The choices were either stay and play at a school where I wasn’t wanted, or go someplace else where I was wanted.”
“I decided to leave,” he continued. “College athletics is hard enough when you’re wanted. I left Marquette and, at the same time, things didn’t work out with my girlfriend. We broke up.”
He opted to reboot. He enrolled in the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and it was like becoming a freshman all over again. It was a tough experience.
But it led — gloriously — to a “reconversion” he experienced, thanks to encounters with young, dynamic and faithful members of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students.
“They had something I didn’t have,” he said. “They were filled with peace. They were joyful. They were happy. I was very drawn to them, and I know today what I was drawn to was their holiness.”
He began to pray the rosary and pray in church every day, attending Mass more often and receiving the sacrament of reconciliation.
“All those things helped me grow in self-knowledge and learn more about our faith and the church, and to learn how to hear God’s voice in prayer,” he said.
During a dinner with missionaries from the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, they asked him some questions: Where do you see yourself in the future? What do you want to do with your life? What do you think God’s plan is for you?
Deacon Zarse didn’t have a clue, but he wanted to find out. Every time he opened himself up to God’s will and asked Mary to show him where to go and what to do, the strangest thing kept popping into his head: thoughts of the seminary.
“Mary, that can’t be right,” he prayed. “Do you know who you’re talking to? It’s your son, Jaime. You want to call people who are more devout.”
He had a hundred good reasons not to go to the seminary, and one powerful reason why he should — God’s will.
In 2008, Deacon Zarse entered Conception Seminary in Conception, Mo. He continued onto Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis in 2011. Gradually, he began to experience the fruits of formation. He experienced a growing peace and encouragement about becoming a priest.
He was ordained a deacon on May 18, 2013, at Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish in Topeka. He will be ordained to the priesthood on May 24 at Prince of Peace Parish in Olathe.
He doesn’t know what his first assignment will be, but he already knows what kind of priest he wants to be: just like the great priests he knew growing up and will serve with in this archdiocese.
“I want to be a priest that is known as faithful to the church and to Jesus Christ,” he said.