Reconciliation & Recalibration

He was king of the mountain, working for all the big names in beauty and rubbing elbows with the rich and famous. Now he’s in training to become a priest.

Scott Vincent Borba ’96, photographed at St. Patrick’s Seminary & University. Image by Nic Coury.
Scott Vincent Borba ’96, photographed at St. Patrick’s Seminary & University. Image by Nic Coury.

At first blush, there’s not much to relate to in the makeover story of Scott Vincent Borba ’96. His journey from founding a multimillion-dollar beauty brand and rubbing elbows with celebrities to entering a seminary as a penniless priest-in-training is a sort of reverse rags-to-riches tale not typically romanticized by our society.

But there’s a certain universality in Borba’s anxieties over being surrounded by people who seem to have found their purpose much earlier than he did. “When you’re sitting down for a meal with these guys at St. Patrick’s [Seminary & University of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno] and there’s a 20-year, 30-year age gap … it’s humbling,” Borba says. “Initially I took it hard. I used to think, ‘Jeez, why didn’t I accept my calling when I first had it?’”

It can feel unfair, even wasteful, to not figure out what you want to be when you grow up until you’re, well, a grown-up. But as it turns out, time spent wandering can be a special gift.

Borba had been a religious kid, the youngest of five who went to Mass with his family every Sunday in the agricultural hub of Visalia, smack in the middle of California. He’d been intrigued by the priesthood even then, but by the time he graduated from Santa Clara, the pull of celebrity and success called him to Los Angeles. He landed in the beauty business, launching lines for the likes of Neutrogena and Hard Candy. He co-founded e.l.f. Cosmetics on the principle that high-quality makeup should be accessible at drugstore prices, and started an eponymous skin care line.

In 2019, Borba abruptly gave it all up, selling off a warehouse full of product and donating the cash, and announced his plans to become a priest. He no longer recognized the path he was on, so he looked to God for help to find a different one.

Now in his second year of a Master of Divinity program and anticipating three more years of formation before ordination, Borba says one of the biggest lessons he’s learned is how to give up control. “I don’t have a position as a seminarian. I’m in limbo land—I’m not a layperson but neither am I priest. Every day has been a surrender.”

Even when Borba is ordained and placed in a parish, he’ll have little say over where. This past summer, he found fulfillment working with Missionaries of Charity in San Francisco to help feed and clothe people experiencing homelessness. But there’s no guarantee he’ll end up back there. No matter where he goes, he wants to create a solid sense of community, “to make families feel this is their church, that God lives here.”

That time between where he was and where he is now bolsters his ministry. It gave him hard-earned knowledge of heartbreak and ambition, in life as people live it. Those are skills age brings to the table.

If he’d started this part of the journey before he was ready, he says, “I wouldn’t understand mercy. I wouldn’t have understood God’s love.”

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