A priest from rural Manitoba is opening up about his unique path to ministry, which went from entertaining baseball fans in Winnipeg to caring for over a dozen parishes in western Manitoba. 

Being in ministry has been a lifelong journey for Father Jay Korban of Rossburn Ukrainian Catholic Pastoral District.

"For me it started when I was about four or five years old. I was often surrounded by clergy, by priests and deacons and stuff, and my parents owned a Funeral Home in Winnipeg. I was constantly surrounded by clergy and they were always a positive influence on me and because of that, when I was young I kind of followed that," Korban says.

While other kids would be playing house or doctor, he says that he would be playing church where it, "blossomed and was always a constant." 

While Korban admits there were moments that he had different aspirations, it always came back to the priesthood.

He first went to the University of Winnipeg where he attained a bachelor's degree in geography and philosophy. He then moved to Ottawa where the Ukrainian Catholic Seminary used to be. 

"It's now in Edmonton, but at the time it was in Ottawa, so I moved out there and spent five years studying in the seminary and at Saint Paul University, and I was getting my Master of Divinity there."

Korban eventually moved back to Winnipeg in 2019 to serve a pastoral year, which is somewhat like an internship. He was eventually ordained on August 15, 2020, during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. "A very small crowd of people that were available and able to attend, did," Korban says of the day. "Then two weeks later I moved out to Rossburn. I now serve this area which includes about 14 parishes."

Korban now calls Rossburn, Man., home but serves a large region. Rossburn is a town of around 500 people, approximately 260 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg. The large geographical region that Korban serves ranges from the south side of Riding Mountain National Park, over to Russell in the west which is near the Saskatchewan border, all the way to the small community of Mountain Road 27 kilometres north of Neepawa, on the east side. "So yeah, it's been a long journey and now I have long journeys all the time on the highway," he says.

The long journeys between parishes culminated to nearly 700 kilometres of driving over Holy Week and Easter. It also included two burnt fingers from candles, the priest joked in a Facebook post. 

While being a priest has been a lifelong dream for Korban, there have been other jobs along the way, including some very unique ones. "I was the mascot for the [Winnipeg] Goldeyes. I started as my high school mascot and from there I was able to get in."

While it started as a backup role, Korban quickly became the full-time game-day guy. 

"I did that for seven seasons, doing tons of events in the city and all the games, all summer long. Sometimes I get the question, 'How does that play into being a priest?' Even my Bishop asked that and how does that apply? And he said, certainly one of the big things I found was it helped to learn how to communicate because as a mascot, you don't talk, you communicate with your emotions, your hands."

Even when he was busy wearing a mascot uniform instead of a clergy collar, faith was still a huge part of his life.

"[The Goldeyes] had a team chaplain that would come and do Saturday Chapel before the games for all the players that couldn't go to church because they were playing a game. The chaplain would be with the visiting team in the dugout and I'd be there with them listening in, praying with them often." 

Korban says that he often heard how special it was to players on the opposing team to have the home team's mascot alongside them in prayer. "For them, it was kind of bearing witness to their faith, too, that they could be part of that. So yeah, faith was always part of that journey."

Part of his ministry in recent years has included serving families and individuals who have arrived from Ukraine since the war with Russia began.

Today, Father Jay says he's excited to see church attendance numbers bouncing back after the pandemic and seeing a number of new families coming to services.