By Mary Kay McPartlin
Parishioners at Sacred Heart Parish in Spring Valley, Sacred Heart Parish in Elmwood and St. Luke Parish in Boyceville have spent the last year being led by Father Prince Raja, who came to the Diocese of La Crosse after working as a diocesan priest in his homeland of India. Living the Catholic faith has been the main focus of Father Prince’s life since childhood. Through the support of his family and educators in India, he was encouraged to explore his connection with Christ through the Eucharist and accept God’s call to the priesthood.
“I’m from southern India. I was studying in a Catholic school until eighth grade,” says Father Prince. “My mom was a great inspiration for me and my vocation. There are just two boys in our family and I’m the eldest. My mom insisted I had to be regular to the CCD classes.”
After receiving his first Holy Communion at age 10, Father Prince felt the strong pull of the Eucharist. His family and parish priest recognized his love and interest in the sacrament and encouraged the connection by guiding Father Prince to be an altar server.
“My mother allowed me to serve on the altar after my first Communion. Our church was Our Lady of Lourdes,” he says. “The month of May in India is a summer holiday. I was a regular altar server for the month. I got a real inspiration for the priesthood. My parish priest really guided me.”
His journey to the priesthood continued at age 14 when he attended a high school designed to prepare young men for seminary, then entered St. Peter’s Seminary until his graduation. His education included studies in English, theology, philosophy, parish service and spirituality. Before his ordination in 2009, Father Prince spent a year working in a parish.
One of the most powerful moments during his time in seminary came during the required one-month retreat for seminarians. “It was really a touching experience,” Father Prince Raja says. “It was an inner journey with God.”
As a parish priest in the United States, Father Prince brought two personal passions with him. “I feel my devotions to the Blessed Mary and to the Blessed Sacrament are very important.”
He was delighted to find his new parish families feel the same connection to the Blessed Mother and the Eucharist. Although many prayerful rituals are similar to what he knew in India, Father Prince has also learned new ways to celebrate.
The May crowning is a different tradition of showing devotion to Mary, which he thoroughly appreciated. Also, the use of extraordinary ministers of holy Communion to distribute Communion to the sick and homebound is not done in India.
“This ministry is really commendable,” says Father Prince. “I get a lot of inspiration from this. They are doing a really great job.”
Another unfamiliar ministry to Father Prince is the Knights of Columbus organization. “They have asked me to be a chaplain. They are doing a lot to help the parish,” he says. “I’m really impressed to see their charitable work. It goes along very well with our Catholic faith.”
The blessing of hospitality is as big a part of the faith community here as it is in India. Being included in the family celebrations of the sacraments is something Father Prince treasures. “People are very hospitable and welcoming. They just invite me to their homes,” he says.
With all the similarities between Catholic life in India and Wisconsin, Father Prince Raja found one very big difference … snow. Learning to navigate winter roads was a new challenge, even if his parishioners considered it to be a mild winter.
No matter what the season, Father Prince is happy to bring the sacraments to the people of Spring Valley, Elmwood and Boyceville, and to share in their lives. “As a priest, I see God in the Eucharist and in the faithful people who are present there.”