CEDAR RAPIDS — He was in sixth grade, celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation, when the priest in the confessional asked Aaron Junge if he had ever given any thought to whether he might have a vocation to the priesthood.
“When he asked me that, it just clicked. I knew what God was calling me to consider,” recalled Junge, who will be ordained a priest at St. Raphael Cathedral in Dubuque on May 28.
Junge, whose father was in the military, was born at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany on the Fourth of July in 1990. When he was still young, the family moved several times, living in the Netherlands, Alabama and Virginia, before finally settling in Cedar Rapids when he was 16 years old.
“Iowa is my adopted home,” said Junge, who graduated from Xavier Catholic High School in 2008 and considers St. Jude Church in Cedar Rapids his home parish.
No matter where they lived, one constant in the Junge family home was the emphasis placed on faith. “I was blessed to grow up in a house where faith was made a priority – the priority,” Junge said.
His parents, Ron and Vanessa, encouraged him and his two younger siblings, sister, Alanna, and brother, Cameron, to consider a religious vocation and to always be open to what God might have planned for their lives.
As Aaron Junge grew older and his faith matured, his relationship with God only grew stronger, as did his desire to dedicate his life in service to the church. He said that for him, the call to the priesthood was a “gentle process,” by which God slowly but surely made his vocation clear.
When Junge shared his decision to go to seminary after high school, no one was all that surprised, but everyone was supportive. “I feel particularly blessed, because my family and friends expressed so much encouragement,” he said. Even among friends with different religious beliefs, “no one at all discouraged me,” Junge remembered. “I had overwhelming support.”
Thinking he was possibly being called to be a Redemptorist priest, Junge enrolled at St. John’s University in New York City. But it did not take him long to realize it was not the right place for him. After completing his freshman year at St. John’s, he transferred to Loras College in Dubuque and enrolled in the St. Pius X Seminary program for undergraduate seminarians. He graduated from Loras in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy.
After finishing his studies in Dubuque, Junge went on to attend four years of major seminary at Mundelein at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake, near Chicago. “Mundelein was a wonderful place to go to seminary,” he said. “We learned about the profound beauty and depth of the faith and how to share it with the people of God.”
Junge said that two aspects of his seminary experience were especially significant for him. The first was the internship he had during his second year of seminary, in which he was assigned to serve the people of St. Edward Parish in Waterloo. The other was a nine-week study-trip to Israel during his third year of formation, which, Junge said, helped the “Scriptures to come alive” for him in a way they never had before.
On May 21, 2015, Junge was ordained as a transitional deacon, the second-to-last step in a series of milestones that mark the path to becoming a priest. Held at St. Jude Parish, his was the first transitional diaconate ordination to take place at a home parish in the archdiocese in many years; previous ones were held at seminaries in Rome or other locations.
This May, Junge graduated from Mundelein Seminary and has now returned home to the archdiocese in preparation for his ordination to the priesthood. Though it is a busy time for Junge, he said he is filled with “a lot of joy and a lot of peace.”
He said he is also filled with a lot of gratitude, thankful for the many mentors and role models who helped bring him to this point in his life.
Junge said he is especially grateful for Father William Joensen, his professor and spiritual director while at Loras College; Father Scott Bullock, his rector when at St. Pius X Seminary and pastor of St. Edward Parish in Waterloo where he interned; Father David Schatz, vocations director for the Archdiocese of Dubuque; Father John Kartje, his rector while at Mundelein Seminary; Father Mark Reasoner, pastor at St. Jude Parish; his teachers at Xavier High School; and the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, who taught him when he lived in Virginia.
Several of these individuals will be with Junge at his ordination and will rejoin him the following day, Sunday, May 29, as he celebrates a Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Jude Parish at 3 p.m.
Shortly after his ordination, Junge will learn the details of his first pastoral assignment. He said he is excited to receive the assignment and looks forward to the responsibilities he will have as a parish priest, especially the chance to preach more often (as a deacon he already has done some preaching) and to be able to hear confessions and to celebrate Mass.
Junge said he is particularly glad he will be living out his vocation in the Archdiocese of Dubuque. “I have fallen in love with the people of this archdiocese,” he reflected. “They are truly magnificent and it will be a great gift to serve them.”
As Deacon Junge looks back on the journey that has led him to the threshold of the priesthood, he said he has advice for other men and women in the archdiocese who might be discerning a similar vocation. “Don’t be afraid to fall in love with Jesus,” he said to them. “If you’re called to be a priest or a religious sister, he’ll make that clear. Don’t be afraid to just take that first step.
What key people in Aaron’s life are saying about him being ordained a priest
“Aaron has been pursuing and discerning his vocation since middle school, when we lived in Virginia. As parents, we were always very supportive of him seeking his vocation of the priesthood. As his father, I am very proud, feel extremely blessed and honestly excited for Aaron that his long awaited ordination and parish assignment is now so close. He has grown so much, academically and spiritually over the past eight years of seminary at Loras and Mundelein.”
– Ron Junge (father)
“As a mother you always pray that the good Lord will keep your child close to Him. As Aaron approaches his ordination, I know that my prayers were heard and answered. I am so thankful for the gift of Aaron’s Priesthood. My prayer will remain the same, and I will also ask that God will make Aaron a good, holy priest who serves Him and His people well.”
-Vanessa Junge (mother)
“It is so inspiring seeing how a person at such a very young age chose to put God first and chose to serve God’s Church in priestly vocation. Thank you, Ron and Vanessa, for supporting and nurturing that vocational seed. I know God will use Father Aaron in so many ways – not only because Father Aaron is a very gifted man but because of his deep humility.”
– Fr. Dustin Vu, Xavier High School
“As Aaron’s ordination day approaches I am so happy for Aaron and for the Church. Aaron has so many wonderful gifts to share, such as his contagious faith, joy, and excitement to name a few. It will be a wonderful day to celebrate with Aaron, his family, and the Church of the Archdiocese of Dubuque. On behalf of many who will benefit from Aaron’s ministry, I say thank you to God, to Aaron, and those who helped Aaron to hear God’s call to serve and build up God’s Church.”
– Fr. Mark Reasoner, St. Jude Parish
“The Redemptorists’ loss (Aaron spent a year with the Redemptorist order as he began college before discerning that he was called to diocesan priesthood) has become a great gift to the Archdiocese of Dubuque. He has a prodigious mind, but wears it lightly as he also has a playful, childlike spirit—I’m glad he graduated from emulating super heroes to striving to imitate Jesus and the saints! He speaks with authority because he is in touch with his own humanity, and is so good at relating the mystery of God’s love to people of every age and background.”
– Fr. William Joensen, Loras College
“Deacon Aaron served an internship in our parish and is beloved by many. The love of our parish for Aaron reveals how effective he will be as a priest. The people of St. Edward Parish in Waterloo will rejoice in the ordination of Fr. Aaron Junge!”
– Fr. Scott Bullock, St. Edward Parish
“Having known Aaron going back to our time at Loras College, we have always known him to be a man of great faith and dedication to the Church. Aaron has always had a passion to share Jesus with others, including us as his friends, of which we are deeply appreciative. We know Aaron will live his life for others in his priesthood and we are proud to call him our friend.”
-Brett and Kelleryn Rauzi (friends)
“Aaron has the heart of a shepherd and a strong desire to bring others to Christ. His care and compassion for God’s people will be a great blessing to our diocese and a gift to the Church.”
– Cassie Schetgen (friend)
“Aaron has been like a brother to me since we started at Loras together in 2009. It is obvious even within this fraternal relationship that Christ has been forming Aaron’s heart to be the heart of a father. I am certain that when he is ordained, it will be quite natural for me to say “Father Aaron,” since in many ways I already see him as both friend and spiritual father.”
– Brandon Schetgen (friend)
Contributed photo: Deacon Aaron Junge visits Caesarea Philippi during his nine-week trip to Israel last year. Caesarea Philippi is where Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ in Matthew 16:15.