Jason Pettigrew, a seminarian at Mt. Angel Seminary in Oregon, shares his journey from a cattle ranch to the seminary.
Tell us about your faith journey.
I didn’t become Catholic until my 30s. I grew up on a cattle ranch and went all over the Southwest gathering wild cattle and catching boars and donkeys. I had a nice string of horses, money in the bank and everything that was supposed to make me happy, including a fiancée.
I asked God, “Please show me what You want from me.” A few days later a thought kept popping in my head: “Rosary, rosary, rosary.” I had never prayed the rosary, but I bought one and learned how to pray it.
I attended my first Mass at a Catholic church in Carlsbad, New Mexico. I felt I was home.
When I worked for the Ute Indians in the Four Corners area, I spent half the year on the reservation and the other half in the high country with the cattle, so I was unable to attend RCIA classes. But when I met Father Steve Murray in Gunnison, Colorado, he told me, “Jason, you come into town once a week for groceries. That’ll be the time for your RCIA.” We did RCIA for six months. The best day of my life was when I was baptized, confirmed and received Communion.
How did you decide to pursue the priesthood?
As my faith and knowledge grew, Father Steve said, “Jason, you may be called.” I said, “I don’t want to be. I’m happy where I am.” He replied, “You might not have much say in it.”
I was up at 9,000 feet on a beautiful ranch in the Rockies by myself, praying the rosary and talking with God. The desire kept growing. Eventually I quit the ranch and sold my horses, trucks and trailers and went to the seminary.
How has seminary been for you?
Having grown up around rugged men and riding a horse for a living, I don’t find many guys like me in the seminary. That’s been difficult. Sitting in the classroom rather than being outside isn’t easy.
But there are also many graces like going to prison ministry, going to the nursing home and taking Communion to the elderly — truly serving the people.
Tell us more about the Santa Fe archdiocese.
New Mexico has four or five different cultures that intermingle. Our archdiocese is unique. We have the oldest Catholic church still standing — San Miguel in Santa Fe — and the Shrine of Chimayó, the “Lourdes of the Southwest.” It’s rich in Catholic tradition and faith.
How do you see yourself as a missionary?
I embrace it. Pope Francis said that priests should smell like their sheep — I spent my whole life with livestock. A rancher’s life is in service and sacrifice for the flock. That’s exactly what a priest should do. A priest, just like a rancher, gets that call in the middle of the night — you get up and serve 24/7.
We’ve got to smell like the sheep — or in my case, like the cows.
Why is Catholic Extension’s support for seminarians in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe important?
We’ve had a flood of vocations in the last few years. Right now we have more than 30 seminarians. But New Mexico is a very poor state. Without the help of Catholic Extension and its donors, our archdiocese would not be able to pay for their education.