Father Stephen Gadberry is a Catholic priest, parish administrator, physical trainer, and an aspiring ninja warrior.
Born and raised in Arkansas, Father Gadberry is one of five children. His Catholic faith has always played a key role in his life, helping him through the loss of his father and older sister to a car accident back in 1994.
“The Catholic faith has always been very important to my family and I; we never missed Sunday Mass, a day of obligation, or parish event,” Father Gadberry told Word on Fire.
A call to the priesthood
It wasn’t until he enlisted in the US Air Force and was stationed throughout Texas, Germany, and Iraq that his Catholic faith became a personal faith. “Although I grew up Catholic and was always active in the Church, it was not until my time in the military that the faith became a personal thing. I fell in love with the Church, sought to learn as much as I could and most importantly, came to know Christ in a personal and intimate way,” he explained.
It was during his time in the military that Father Gadberry first heard the Lord’s call to the priesthood. He was ordained a priest on May 28, 2016.
Growing up on a farm, Father Gadberry learned about the value of hard, physical work. Even though he was small for his size as a kid, he didn’t let that stop him from competing in sports “What I lacked in stature though, was made up for in my heart, dedication, and grit,” he told Word on Fire. “I was small but scrappy. . . I love being the underdog.”
Father Gadberry continued in his love of sports and became an avid runner, weight lifter, and Crossfit trainer. He carried his love of exercise with him throughout the seminary and now, into the priesthood.
“As a priest, I enjoy helping others to become physically and spiritually fit and find great joy in showing how comparable and interconnected the two are,” he explained.
A priestly Ninja Warrior
This year, Father Gadberry is taking his love of physical exercise and his passion for evangelization to a whole new level.
In 2017, Sean Bryan challenged Father Gadberry to compete on NBC’s American Ninja Warrior. Sean was known as the ‘Papal Ninja’. A two time competitor, he wore the colors of the papal flag. Father Gadberry now refers to Sean as his ninja mentor.
Although he spends one to two hours training every day for the incredibly challenging obstacle course, Father Gadberry is also aiming for a much higher prize – the opportunity to evangelize to the audience what the Catholic Church is really about.
“Participation on American Ninja Warrior is another example of using the gifts that God has given me to proclaim the Gospel and give a positive presentation of the Catholic priesthood,” Father Gadberry said. “American Ninja Warrior is a sort of obstacle course on steroids. With the American Ninja Warrior platform, I want to show others that they can conquer the obstacles of their life. All of us have obstacles. When we encounter them, we can give up and stop or we can face them, conquer them, and move on.”
Changing the perception of the priesthood
Father Gadberry hopes that his time on American Ninja Warrior will change what people think of Catholic priests. “Often times, people will stereotype a priest or religious or someone who is devout in their faith as being uber spiritual,” he told Catholic News Agency. But the Catholic faith doesn’t view the body as bad. Instead, the Church sees human beings as integrated, soul and body.
When he’s not training for the intense obstacle course of American Ninja Warrior, Father Gadberry serves two parishes in Arkansas. He’s the administrator for both Saint Cecilia Church and Saint Mary Church.
You can catch Father Gadberry competing in the extreme obstacles of NBC’s American Ninja Warrior, which premieres May 30. If you want to get to know Father Gadberry, the warrior priest, more before the show begins, check him out on social media, where you can watch footage of his training!
You’ll also find Father Gadberry in Bishop Robert Barron’s new series The Mass, which launches on June 12, 2018.
UPDATED: Check out Father Gadberry’s first run of the obstacle course!