For Fr. John Nahrgang, the call to the priesthood came not from a Catholic upbringing, but from the consistent whisper of Mary to his heart. Raised loosely in the Methodist Church, his first encounter with Catholicism came at the age of 10 when he went to Mass with his friend’s family.
“It was an awakening of a kind,” Fr. Nahrgang said. “It gave me a great interest and respect for religious experience. … That article opened up my heart in a good way.”
He visited the University of Notre Dame on his way up from a trip to Florida, and he saw the gilded statue of Notre Dame, Our Lady, atop the school’s main building. He knew then he wanted to attend school there.
While in college, the finance and Spanish major took a semester abroad in Monterrey, Mexico, where he was introduced to Our Lady of Guadalupe and began researching her. He made a pilgrimage to the shrine in Mexico City and began praying the Rosary.
“She kind of captured me,” he said of Mary. “It grew from there.”
While volunteering with Mother Teresa’s sisters caring for terminally ill children during a semester abroad in Chile, one of the nuns told him he had the face of a priest and thought he would be a priest one day, despite the fact that he still wasn’t Catholic.
Back home in Minnesota, after graduating from Notre Dame in 2005, he entered the RCIA program and a year later, was accepted into the Church at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Nahrgang began going to Eucharistic Adoration and about a year and a half later, though he had been experiencing a low point in his life, he felt himself change as he prayed the different mysteries of the Rosary.
“The cloud of my depression was burned away by Jesus and then the vocation came in strong and didn’t go away,” Fr. Nahrgang said.
While discerning his vocation, he visited a priest and realized he found his calling. Because of his strong devotion to Mary, he joined the Marians of the Immaculate Conception in 2009.
“God formed me beautifully with them,” Fr. Nahrgang recalled.
After three years with the Marian Fathers, through the guidance of his spiritual adviser, he chose to pursue the diocesan priesthood.
He joined the Diocese of Phoenix in 2013 and was “adopted” by Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Glendale, then entered the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus. Fr. Nahrgang was ordained a transitional deacon May 28 of last year and is serving at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral and is involved in the Hispanic Ministry.
“I like the experience of teaching the faith and the privilege of being allowed into the spiritual lives of the people,” he said.
Though his parents are not Catholic, they have supported him in every step of his journey — his mom even received the maniturgium, the linen cloth that is used to wrap a newly ordained priest’s hands after they are anointed, at his ordination. His father accepted his stole.
Fr. Nahrgang recalled that during his time in seminary, he encountered many classmates whose parents did not encourage them to enter the priesthood, despite being Catholic.
“If you see a young man who could be a priest, please tell him because only God knows,” Fr. Nahrgang said. “That could very well be the Holy Spirit. Those kinds of things can make a difference. God works through people.”