APPLETON, Wis. (WFRV) – These days you’re much more likely to catch Rev. Michael Lightner reading a Bible than a football playbook, but that wasn’t always the case.
So when people asked me what I wanted to do, I would say I want to play in the NFL and they’d be like oh that’s great and tap me on my head,” said Lightner. “Then when I was in eighth grade I was 6-4, 286 pounds and they stopped patting me on the head at that point and believed I had a shot.”
His older brothers played football so he was naturally drawn to the sport.
A standout offensive lineman and long snapper at Oconto High School Lightner received a scholarship to play at Eastern Michigan University which is Division 1 program. He said he had seven scholarship offers coming out of high school.
“It raised to the level where it (football) almost became a god for me,” said Lightner. “It defined me in that sense.”
Lightner said he partied a lot in college and prioritized football over his faith.
On Monday night, Lightner isn’t at Xavier High School to tell the people packed into the auditorium about his football glory days. Instead, he’s here to talk about the moment his life changed when he went on a trip with his mother to Bosnia and Herzegovina to a small town called Međugorje which is an unofficial pilgrimage spot for Catholics. The Virgin Mary has appeared to Catholics in this location which is why people take pilgrimages here.
He said his mother’s only request was that he go to confession. When he was there, he said he had a life-changing moment.
“For the first time in my life I felt the love of god and it was better than any drug, it was better than any sex, it was better than winning the big game, it was better than anything I tangibly experienced on this earth,” said Lightner.
He said after this experience he devoted his life to God, became a priest, and rejected offers from several teams to play in the NFL. He said he has no regrets about his decision and wants to share his story with others.
“And for young people to know that there is god and he loves us no matter what we decide to do,” said Lightner.
Lightner said he’s been a priest for 17 years and currently works at churches in Menasha.