Father Jason Sharbaugh finally gets Subiaco diploma

Father Jason Sharbaugh (left), who celebrated his fourth anniversary as a priest in May, shows off his honorary diploma from Subiaco Academy. Congratulating him is Abbot Jerome Kodell, OSB, of Subiaco Abbey.
Father Jason Sharbaugh (left), who celebrated his fourth anniversary as a priest in May, shows off his honorary diploma from Subiaco Academy. Congratulating him is Abbot Jerome Kodell, OSB, of Subiaco Abbey.

The path on life’s journey can be circuitous as Father Jason Sharbaugh can attest.

Father Sharbaugh, the new pastor of St. Boniface Church in Fort Smith and former associate pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Church in Rogers, was awarded an honorary diploma from Subiaco Academy at the 20th-year alumni weekend May 31. While receiving a degree this time of year is not unusual, conferring this particular degree held emotional significance and meaning.

The degree was a way of seeing his life come full circle because in the summer of 1993, Sharbaugh, then a junior at Subiaco Academy, was not invited to return for his senior year.

“Going there was the best thing that could have happened to me,” Father Sharbaugh said. “It shaped me in ways that I did not understand at the time and it is where I grew ‘graciously into manhood’ and really began my vocation.”

But then smiling, he added, “Although no one would have believed it at the time.”

Leaving was difficult but not being asked to come back was an incident that preyed upon his spirit.

“I was, ‘kicked out,’ or asked to leave because of a series of bad choices and disciplinary issues that did not align with the mission of the academy,” Father Sharbaugh, 38, said. “Back then I could not see how my decisions could hurt and affect other people.”

Although leaving Subiaco did not bring immediate resolution to his life, Father Sharbaugh did call and apologize to Father Gregory Pilcher, OSB, then his dormitory dean at Subiaco, at the end of his senior year.

“It was not like once I left Subiaco, I was reformed, that was years later, but it was what was grounded in me to do that,” he said tongue in cheek, “after a life of dissipation.”

“He was always kind of a smart mouth, and I can’t remember what caused his final ‘denouement,’ but, let’s just say, he wasn’t responding to ‘treatment’ and I told the disciplinary board he really shouldn’t be asked to return,” said Father Pilcher, currently pastor of Holy Redeemer Church in El Dorado. “He seemed to have a turning point after high school and when I was on a personal retreat at Petit Jean Mountain, he came to see me and we visited and prayed and let bygones be bygones. Through the years, I have been a mentor for him.”

“I believe him to be a very smart man because he takes my advice,” Father Pilcher added.

From that point, Father Sharbaugh’s redemptive story continues to meander along his road of discovery. He enlisted in the Air Force for two years, then attended the University of Central Arkansas and the University of Delaware, each for one year, going on to graduate from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville with a bachelor’s degree in political science. During his time at UA, he was active at St. Thomas Aquinas University Parish but had not yet answered the call to the priesthood and continued searching.

The following fall, he enrolled in law school at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

In August 2004, he entered the seminary, first in Indiana then in Houston.

“You don’t have to be perfect to follow a vocation,” Father Pilcher pointed out. “I think Jason showed great ability to turn himself around with God’s grace.”

“Just because you aren’t a saint at 16, doesn’t mean you can’t be one at 30,” Father Pilcher said.

Father Sharbaugh believes every vocation story to be similar, but unique. He likes to mention that he was ordained May 22, the feast day of St. Rita.

“She is the patron saint of lost causes,” he said with a grin.

“Everyone does it in a different way,” he said. “In the Lord, I discovered who I was. But Subiaco is where things were planted and allowed me to grow as a man later on in my life.”

“I always knew the light of God was in Jason,” his mother, Beth, has said of him, “it just took some time to grow.”

“He has a great mind and I think he will continue to serve the diocese well for years to come,” Father Pilcher said.

 

Alesia Schaefer

Alesia Schaefer has been a Arkansas Catholic reporter and columnist from Northwest Arkansas for more than 10 years. A member of St. Vincent de Paul Church in Rogers, she works as admissions director and cross country coach at Ozark Catholic Academy in Tontitown.

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