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In Light of Living Saints: " Yes."
Vocational testimony of Fr. Justin Kielhorn LC

Vocational testimony of the Fr. Justin Kielhorn LC
Fr. Justin Kielhorn LC
I grew up in the middle of nowhere—Kearney, Nebraska. It is one of those towns where everyone knows everyone else and when someone dies or is born they scratch out the number on the population sign and put the new number.

My dad was a convert to the Faith. My mother was a cradle Catholic. Their first child—Nicole—known to the family as Nikki, was born with a sickness such that the doctors had to remove several feet of her small intestine when she was born. Over the period of the next two years she starved to death. This was real journey in faith for my parents and a great preparation for what was to come. I was born a year and a half later. My younger brother, Christopher, was born three years later. He is a Legionary as well and is currently studying in Rome. Five years later, Stephanie was born. She is a consecrated member of the Regnum Christi Movement and currently lives in Rhode Island. Finally there is my little brother Quinn who lives at home with my parents and is a sophomore at the Highlands School.

Inklings of an Eternal Call
We were members of a country parish in Nebraska. The Parish priest was a Czechoslovakian priest named Fr Jan Smutney. He was full of all sorts of exciting stories because shortly after his ordination the KGB put his name on their death list. He managed to escape from them and take refuge in the United States. In fact it was while serving Mass for him one morning shortly after my first communion that I first thought of becoming a priest.

My mother was the vocations director of the parish (a parish consisting of 40 families), so we had five or so binders full of pamphlets from
Vocational testimony of the Fr. Justin Kielhorn LC
various religious congregations. I remember thumbing through them one day and being struck by one brochure in particular (it was the only one that was in color in all of the binders). It was the yearly LeCristo calendar, complete with full page pictures of the young religious (at the time I did not have a clue about the difference between priests and brothers), praying, playing soccer, laughing… I remember thinking, “I want to be a priest just like these guys.”

In the summer of 1992, my family went to Grand Rapids, Michigan for a Couple-to-Couple League conference. During the opening Mass of the conference, my eye caught sight of a young priest who was extremely fervent. After Mass I remember all of the members of my family asking each other, “Did you see that priest?” The funny thing was that he was only concelebrating the Mass. None of us remember the main celebrant, just the concelebrant. Afterwards, while we were waiting in line for some food at one of the stands set up for the conference, this same young priest asked my Mom if he could cut in front of us and get some food quick because he had to go hear confessions. My mom said, “Of course.” And before the priest knew it, he was being given a whole history of my desires to be a priest.

The priest never made it to the confessional that night. He spent around an hour speaking to my Mom. One of the themes of their discussion was the rather poor education I was receiving at the public school in Kearney. When the priest heard her mention this, he told her that he had the perfect solution. I could go to the school that the Legion ran for boys interested in the priesthood. I remember my mom getting really excited and asking, “Where is it?”

He said, “New Hampshire.”

And all of us said together, “Where’s that?”

A Family Vacation... at the Seminary
During the next year, the Legionaries visited us in Kearney four times—a very impressive feat, considering that the nearest big city, Omaha, was 3 hours away. During that time my brother and I became more and more enamored with the Legionaries. I remember that besides their fervor in Mass, one thing that impressed us was that they could slamdunk a basketball on the adjustable basketball hoop that we had on our gravel driveway—in their suits!

On December 23 of 1992 my dad got a call from the Legionaries in Cheshire inviting my brother and I out to a retreat during the Christmas season. It was just impossible to accept such a last minute invitation. So the Legionary on the other end of the phone suggested that we consider a later date and that the whole family come out. The date was Easter. My dad agreed.

In Holy Week of 1993, we had a family vacation in Cheshire, Connecticut. Wow! We could not believe the fervor of the seminarians at Mass on Holy Thursday. And my brother and I could not believe how much fun it was to play dodge ball with a bunch of kids we had never met. But this was just the beginning; the real KO punch was to come when a few days later we would drive up to visit some school in New Hampshire. It was love at first sight. The apostolic school was a dream world. I think that what most impressed me coming from a public school situation was the charity. I could not believe how kind all of the boys were. It was out of this world. It was heaven. After just two days there, both my brother and I had decided that we were definitely coming back for the summer program. And so I left for the Summer Program as a 14 year old.

But the story does not end here. It took 3 encounters with saints to complete it.

Three Saints Who Said “Yes”
On July 25th I remember feeling a bit homesick. In the seat next to me was a short blond kid who was shaking all over with excitement. The whole way up he was talking about how great the summer program would be and about how he couldn’t wait to be an apostolic and get his red sweater and later on a cassock. I remember thinking, “If this kid is so excited about the summer program and he is two years younger than me, then what’s wrong with me? Forget this. I am going to be like this kid and throw myself into the summer program.” After the summer program was over, “this kid” could not stay. Shortly afterwards, he got cancer and died 4 years later. Through a special permission from the Holy Father, he got permission to receive the Legionary cassock even though he was too young to join the novitiate, and he died in the uniform he so longed to wear. The boy’s name was Declan Brown.

Two weeks later, I was on my way to World Youth Day in Denver. I had managed to get in with a group that was going with the Legion. At this stage I felt in my heart that God was possibly calling me to be an apostolic, but I was not convinced yet that he actually was. So I made a little resolution that I only shared with my dad—“Unless the Blessed Virgin hits me on the head with a two-by-four and makes this clear by having the Pope tell me personally that I have a vocation, I am not going to the apostolic school.”

Making deals like that can be dangerous, because Our Lady will make it happen. On August 14th in the Vigil with the Pope, the Pope said the following phrase—at least this is the way I remember it: “The only way to live life and live it to the full, is to do God’s will.” At that moment the whole summer flashed in front of my eyes. And the phrase I had told my Dad just echoed in my mind and I broke down and began to cry with joy. That was it. Those words from the Pope were the two-by-four I had asked of Mary: that simple phrase, addressed to all, was my personal invitation from the Pope to join the apostolic school. How so? Mary made it personal. Those words hit me right in the heart. I will never forget that moment. I cried myself to sleep on Denver’s dusty ground that night.

The next day on the bus ride back to where I was staying with the Legionaries in Colorado. I was sharing my experience with one of the guys who was on the trip with me. After I finished sharing the experience I told him that I knew that I was definitely called to be an Apostolic and that I would give myself a year to prepare and then join the year after. Suddenly someone who I had never before met, turned around in his seat and told me, “Don’t be an idiot. If God is calling you now, go now.” Then he turned back around and sat down. I never saw or heard from him again until two years later, during summer vacation when I was sitting at my family’s kitchen table. My Mom had a brochure on the table, and this brochure had the picture of the kid who had told me not to be an idiot. I read the name under the picture and saw that it was Brian Bisgrove, who had been an apostolic for a few years. After he graduated, he discerned that it was not his vocation. Shortly afterwards, he discovered that he had cancer-- and even with the cancer, he went on to help found the ConQuest Boys Clubs.

Thanks to this saint, and thanks to the good example of many others, I was able to say “yes” to God’s call. Looking back, I can say this: God is really good, and he has been really good to me.

Father Justin Kielhorn, LC was born on August 23, 1978 in Omaha, Nebraska. He lived in Kearney, Nebraska (in the diocese of Grand Island) from 1981 until 1993. In this year he joined the apostolic school in New Hampshire. In 1996 he entered the noviciate in Cheshire, CT, where he made his first profession in 1998. After six months of humanistic studies, he was named a dean in the apostolic school of New Hampshire in May of 1999. In 2002 he started his studies in philosophy and theology in Rome and then returned to New Hampshire to work once again as a dean in the apostolic school.

This testimony is part of the book “Ven y sígueme” (Come and Follow me). In January 2008 you can buy it at It contains 48 testimonies in Spanish, 11 in English and 1 in German.


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