P. Justin Prigge, L.C.
- A little kid growing up in Texas ca. 1992.
- First Communion day, spring 1996.
- In Washington just before joining the high-school seminary in summer of 2001.
- As a student of the Apostolic School in New Hampshire with his family at his Confirmation in 2002.
- With his siblings in Germany in 2006.
- Serving at the Easter Vigil Mass for Pope Benedict XVI in 2009.
- With his family at diaconate ordination in 2018.
Until He says ‘no’
Instead of looking for the clouds to spell out a heavenly message or waiting to physically hear some mysterious voice speak to you and reveal God’s plan for your life, just look at the gifts He has given you, aim for the highest possible path you can, and keep going until He says ‘no’.
If you lived anywhere near Prune Hill in Camas, Washington around the year 2000, chances are you had a tall, blonde boy knocking on your door trying to sell you a subscription to the local newspaper. This 12 year old would have explained to you that he was trying to win $400 in a competition held among paperboys that summer, and that the prize money won would not go towards a video game console, a new bike, nor any of the other usual suspects for a kid his age, but towards a pilgrimage to Rome. (And by the way, he certainly also added with a smile that he could mow your lawn as well, if you so desired…) My story, however, begins long before that moment on your hypothetical doorstep, nearly 2000 miles away in the South.
From the heat to the rain and a downpour of grace
I was born in November 1987 in Fort Worth, Texas. I became a big brother quickly with my brother and two of my sisters coming along in the following years. The seven years we lived there were fairly ordinary as far as I can remember, with perhaps the most interesting happening for me being skipping Kindergarten because my Mom had already taught me how to read. Unfortunately, a close encounter with a brick mailbox while riding my bike around the neighborhood (ending with 14 stitches in my shoulder… yeah, ouch) also remains a vivid memory.
On the 4th of July, 1995, the six of us moved into our new house in the Pacific Northwest, near my Dad’s side of the family. My Mom was a cradle Catholic, but it was a bout with cancer and ongoing battle with the side effects afterwards that brought her to a new point in her faith life in 1998: a complete surrender to God and an awakening to the immense gift that was the Catholic faith. My Dad immediately followed in the footsteps of faith – renewed his own faith and officially joined the Catholic Church after 10 years of attending Mass every Sunday. That was also the year that our Regnum Christi friends started a private Catholic school. My siblings and I were enrolled and began to receive a faith-filled formation.
Reflecting back on that period, it really was the perfect storm of God’s providence. At the very time of my Mom’s spiritual awakening, my Dad joining the Church, and us kids going to Catholic school, is when we were introduced to the Legionaries of Christ and the consecrated women of Regnum Christi. We were all so on fire for Jesus and the Church but had no idea what to do with it all. So, when they arrived into our lives, we instantly had the support, direction and organization we needed to keep growing. This link would become key in the future for my vocation.
Life in the Evergreen State was just like that of any other boy my age: I played baseball, basketball, and soccer, spent hours jumping on the trampoline in our backyard, and many more hours playing video games with my friends. I ran my own little lawn-mowing business in the summertime and delivered the local newspaper every Tuesday to the area around my neighborhood.
As I began to save up my money and wonder what I should spend it on, one day my Mom came back from a Regnum Christi convention in Seattle with a handful of flyers (she said she took one of everything!). One of them was for a boys’ pilgrimage to Rome with the Legionaries for the closing of the Holy Doors at the end of the Jubilee Year 2000. My class had already been planning a trip to Rome for Spring break of 2001, but this other trip was cheaper because the group would be staying in tents instead of a hotel! It also sounded like more fun to be with a group of boys than with my class on the trip. My parents had already told me I would need to pay my own way there and, at this new price, I wasn’t too far away from having the necessary funds to go.
So that brings me back to your doorstep. I won 2nd place in the competition selling newspaper subscriptions that summer, and the $350 prize money was enough to put me on a plane headed across the Atlantic.
“Eternal” City takes on a whole new meaning
My trip to Rome was amazing… except for the rain. We woke up one morning in our tents at the campground and I found myself floating on my air mattress above three inches of water. Others, in their sleeping bags on the ground, weren’t so lucky… We were eventually able to move into the back corner of a large tent set up to host an event. I didn’t know where or what it was at the time (and didn’t care either as long as it kept us and our belongings dry), but it turns out it was at the Legion of Christ International College, the seminary where I would eventually find myself studying eight years later! And the event for which the tent was set up was for a priestly ordination ceremony, just like the one at which I would be ordained a priest 18 years later!
We didn’t end up visiting all of the ancient Roman monuments, but rather frequented the many basilicas and churches. It was on one particular evening at Mass in one of the minor basilicas that I heard some words—one word—that would change my life forever. The sun had already set on the 2000-year-old cobblestone roads. The basilica was dark and mysterious, with only the main altar being properly illuminated. The dark blue mosaic that filled the wall behind it only enhanced the effect. When it came time for the homily, the priest approached the lectern and… didn’t say anything. We sat in silence for a few moments until he slowly leaned closer to the microphone, paused for yet another second or two, and then shouted the word: ETERNITY! Once, twice, three times. ETERNITY…! Its echo danced through the rafters of the basilica and lingered even longer in the depths of my soul. I honestly don’t remember a word of the homily that followed, but God planted a seed in my soul that evening through the one word I did hear. I had no idea what that seed was supposed to grow into, but I would begin to find out just six months later.
Until He says ‘no’
I returned home in January tired but excited. Life at school continued as usual. I think I even got extra credit in Latin class for reporting on some of the places I had visited. There was one idea though that I told my Mom and Dad about. I felt like God had told me “something” in Rome. I wasn’t sure what it was, but it had to do with leading other boys. My Dad and I started up a small boys’ club we called R.O.C.K. (Representatives of Christ’s Kingdom). We met a few times and organized a few activities, but it wouldn’t last long because, little did we know at the time, we were both about to move away.
The Catholic school I had been attending only went through 8th grade. As spring ended and summer approached, we began to look for a high school. My parents didn’t want to send me to the public high school, but we weren’t finding any good options for Catholic high schools either. That’s when, one fine day, a Legionary priest friend of ours came by for dinner. I knew him because he visited the school every few months as chaplain and he had also organized weekend retreats for our boys’ club whenever he was in town. He and a Legionary seminarian showed up in sharp-looking, double-breasted black suits, but that didn’t stop him from shedding his suit jacket and coming out to jump on the trampoline with us kids in our backyard! I was also impressed by his lively conversation. My mom recalls me telling her that, although I had never thought of becoming a priest nor felt called to it, if I ever were to become one, I would want to be a priest like him.
After dinner, he told my parents and me about a summer camp at Immaculate Conception Apostolic School in Center Harbor, New Hampshire. It was a high-school seminary run by the Legion of Christ for boys open to the Catholic priesthood. He showed us pictures of the school and the activities we would be doing at the camp, and it looked like a blast. Sports twice a day, hikes to the mountains twice a week, and—best of all, because it was a boarding school—no homework! I liked the sound of that. My friends in years past had always gone to different summer camps and come back to tell me all about them, so I figured this would be my own special experience. I signed up.
The Summer Program, as it is called, was indeed as amazing as advertised. I enjoyed the activities, made new friends, and felt like I grew closer to God as well. During the final week of the month-long camp, it came time for those who are admitted to decide if they wanted to stay for the school year and join the minor seminary. I was completely undecided. Although I had a great experience, I hadn’t seen or felt or heard any clear signs from God about whether this was for me or not. I guess I was looking for something obvious, unmistakable, like letters appearing in the sky or a voice that I would hear. I told this to the priest, the same one who had visited my house and who was there helping out at the Summer Program. His reply was something I will never forget:
You don’t have to ask for miracles or see visible signs to find out God’s plan for you and take the first step. Look at the talents he has blessed you with. He has given you the necessary qualities to follow the highest calling. A doctor helps save peoples’ lives here on earth; a priest helps save peoples’ souls for eternity. If possible, you want to do something that will last for eternity. Give God the first chance and just keep going until He says ‘no’.
The seed of eternity planted in Rome had begun to sprout.
Across the country at 13, across the world at 16
So it was that I joined the minor seminary (Apostolic School) at 13 years old. I am grateful to my parents who supported my decision 100%, even though it meant being far away. They always said, “Who are we to tell God ‘no’ when you are so ready to say ‘yes’?” Even though they missed me very much and felt sad at times, God filled the void in their hearts with a grace they describe as, well, indescribable! A few months later, a job opportunity arose for my Dad in Idaho, and that very Christmas my family was able to move out to the countryside like they had long wanted to and be close to my Mom’s side of the family. Also, after a 10-year gap, my youngest sister came along! They gave a child to God and received another from Him, so to speak. Looking back, it’s amazing how God is never outdone in generosity (100 fold!).
Over the three years I was at Immaculate Conception, my calling became clearer and clearer. Since my senior year there, I can say I’ve had the grace never to doubt my vocation to the priesthood. After graduating high school at age 16, I had to make an important phone call home. Nobody answered, so I just left a message: “Can you send a FedEx package to… Germany?!”
I was sent to do my novitiate, the first two years of major seminary, at Bad Münstereifel in Germany. After that, my studies took me to Spain and then to Rome, close to the Holy Father in the heart of the Church. I finished my bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and then took a break from studies from 2010-2013 to serve as a dean at the Legion’s Sacred Heart Apostolic School in Rolling Prairie, Indiana. Now I was on the other side giving back to boys after having received so much myself at such a school!
I returned to Rome in 2013, achieved a master’s degree in Philosophy, and made my perpetual profession of vows on August 20, 2015. After that, it was on to three years of Theology studies for my bachelor’s degree. I was ordained a deacon on July 7, 2018 and received my first apostolic assignment. It would mean yet another exciting phone call home! I gave my family a couple clues by text message first: I would have to learn a new language (already knowing four), it’s in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s almost exactly the same size as the state of Indiana… Finally, we Skyped and I told them I would be working in Budapest, Hungary at the Regnum Christi-run “John Paul II School” and elsewhere. I’m glad to be serving the Church here in Hungary through the Regnum Christi Movement and look forward to many years of fruitful ministry (after getting a better hang of this challenging language, of course!).
I want to be a bridge between God and mankind. I can tell people about God, invite them to get to know Him, hopefully show them an example of His love, but as a priest I literally give Him to them in the Eucharist, and them to Him. I want to be a priest to invest in eternity and help others do the same.
In short, I just kept telling God that I would continue following Him until He said ‘no’. And He never did.