Justin Bolger had been a successful musician playing at venues in Baltimore and across the country for years. He even landed a major record deal with his sister, Maggie, as the duo, Judd and Maggie, but as his 20s became his 30s he slowly started receiving signs, calling him to the priesthood.
“I kept on running into Dominicans everywhere,” the newly ordained Dominican Father Bolger said jokingly of his future religious order with their distinctive black cloaks and white habits.
Another sign? His older brother, Jesse, has been a priest with the Archdiocese of Baltimore since 2008. Father Jesse Bolger is now the pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Fullerton.
“I saw that he could just lay his life down for Christ, for the church, and that it’s not impossible. All things are possible with God, and just him forging that way, I think I opened up,” Father Justin Bolger said.
Father Justin Bolger – who grew up in Baltimore’s St. William of York Parish and later St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Libertytown – was ordained May 23, along with five others, at a small ceremony at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington. Washington Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory celebrated the liturgy while a handful of Dominican brothers attended. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Father Bolger’s family watched via livestream.
But the next day, Father Jesse Bolger concelebrated his brother’s first Mass at St. Thomas the Apostle in Washington, D.C. He delivered the homily, giving a bit of brotherly guidance as his younger sibling embarks on his new ministry.
“I waited for his first Mass homily to give a lot of my advice and said that this should be programmatic for your priesthood,” Father Jesse Bolger said.
For his brother the musician, Father Jesse Bolger fittingly spoke of a “harmonic triad” that represents Father Justin Bolger’s vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
As Father Justin Bolger heads to his next assignment at Providence College in Rhode Island, he won’t be leaving his experience as a musician behind. Music will be very much a part of his ministry.
A singer/songwriter who also plays the keyboard and the organ, Father Justin Bolger has continued to produce music during his studies, including a gospel bluegrass album.
“That actually did quite well,” he said. “It got to No. 3 in the Billboard bluegrass charts,” Father Justin Bolger said.
The devotion to the church is a family trait for the Bolgers. For years, their parents both performed as folk musicians in Catholic churches and their great uncle, Monsignor Joseph Parks, was a priest for 64 years in the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y.
Father Justin Bolger celebrated his first Mass using Monsignor Parks’ chalice.
“That was a beautiful connection to our family lineage of priests,” Father Jesse Bolger said.
One of seven children, Father Jesse Bolger said his parents already had grandchildren – thanks to his married siblings — and will now have even more “spiritual grandchildren” as a second Bolger enters the priesthood.
“They are definitely honored and humbled, especially, by having two priests in the family. And, you know, because it’s not our work, it’s God’s,” Father Justin Bolger said of his parents.
Email Tim Swift at tswift@CatholicReview.org
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