Former Super Bowl champion, NFL executive Matt Birk coaches future priests on public life

Matt Birk grew up just over a mile down Cretin Avenue from The Saint Paul Seminary.

Yet the former NFL center turned Minnesota renaissance man never thought he’d be spending much time inside the seminary’s walls.

“Oh of course,” Birk said during a recent interview, seated with a coffee at JJ’s Junction — a modest coffee and beverage bar in the seminary’s basement. “I was like ‘the seminary’s going to want me to come teach, for sure.’

“No. Never in a million years.”

But Birk has spent the 2023-24 academic year doing just that, imparting wisdom from a lifetime of public leadership roles in a program called “Methods of Passionate Preaching.” In partnering with The Saint Paul Seminary’s pastoral formation department, Birk is teaching transitional deacons not just how to deliver a good homily, but how to handle life as a public figure in the parish.

“More people are afraid of speaking in public than dying,” Birk said. “It’s the No. 1 thing people are afraid of. So it’s, ‘here, let’s give you some fundamentals, some tools.’”


Birk’s message to the seminarians in his charge is simple: be present, be clear and be you.

Birk’s credentials for doing so are voluminous:

  • He says he wasn’t good at any of the sports he played growing up, “which is why I became a lineman.” He’s being modest; after earning all-state, academic all-state and all-St. Paul Conference honors in football and basketball at Cretin Derham-Hall, he graduated from Harvard in 1998 with a degree in economics and All-Ivy League accolades.
  • He played one of the NFL’s most vocal positions, first for the Vikings and later for the Baltimore Ravens, with whom he won a Super Bowl in 2012-13, his final season. Centers are responsible for ensuring their fellow offensive linemen are properly aligned and being completely in sync with the quarterback. Birk was named to six Pro Bowls and twice earned all-pro second-team recognition. In 2010, The Sporting News named him the sixth- smartest athlete in the world. The following year, he received the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.
  • Since his playing days, Birk has served as the NFL’s director of football development, co-founded Unity Catholic High School in Burnsville, been a vocal supporter of pro-life causes and Catholic teaching on marriage and sexuality, wrote a book called “All-Pro Wisdom,” run for lieutenant governor of Minnesota, and founded Matt Birk and Company, which offers public speaking, presentation and media coaching.

He co-founded the firm with longtime business coach, close friend and fellow enthusiastic Catholic Paul Vitale. The two worked with the seminary to devise the passionate preaching curriculum last spring.

Matt Birk with seminarians at The Saint Paul Seminary
Matt Birk pauses for a photo with seminarians set for priestly ordination in spring 2024.

But soon after, Vitale passed away from cancer. Matt Birk and Company’s mission, in part, is to honor the memory of Vitale, who served for 22 years as CEO and founder of Vital Communications before teaming up with Birk.

Birk’s message to the seminarians in his charge is simple: be present, be clear and be you.

“You have to give [a homily] every day, it can’t be the same talk back-to-back days, your audience is from 5 to 99 years old, all different levels of where they’re at in … their faith,” said Birk, who still lives in the cities with his wife, Adrianna, and their eight children. “OK, craft a message that speaks to everybody — almost impossible.

“It’s like golf. You’ve got to find a swing that works for you.”

In helping seminarians who are set for priestly ordination this spring find their voice, Birk said he might have gained more out of the experience than they did.

“These guys are so on it,” Birk said. “They’re on time, they’re sitting down, they don’t have their phones out, they’re 100 percent engaged in what you’re talking about. You ask questions, they give back thoughtful answers or feedback.

“The future of our Church is bright. These guys are impressive, holy men. This is the draft class … to put it in football terms, of our Church.

“There’s going to be some stud rookies out there.”

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