Enter advanced stage in discernment of priesthood and military chaplaincy
LUTZ, FLORIDA –This weekend, 15 men will take a “step closer” to discerning whether God is calling them to be Catholic priests in theUnited States Military. The 15 are scheduled to gather for a period of prayer and reflection in the June 25-28 “Step Closer Retreat” at theBethany Retreat Center in Lutz, Florida.
The Step Closer Retreat is sponsored annually by the Vocations Office of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (AMS), for the most serious of prospective Catholic military chaplains—those showing the strongest inclination toward a priestly vocation as well as the “vocation within a vocation” to serve in the armed forces.
The retreat is one way the AMS is working diligently to match worthy candidates with military careers as priests. Their services are in high demand right now due to a chronic shortage of Catholic military chaplains resulting from an ongoing trend of attrition. Aging chaplains are reaching the military’s mandatory retirement age of 62 faster than they can be replaced. Since 9/11, the number of Catholic priests on active duty has shrunk from more than 400 to fewer than 230. Currently, 25% of the military is Catholic, but Catholic priests make up only 8% of the chaplain corps, representing only one priest for every 1,300 Catholics in uniform, not counting families of those service members.
As in recent years, most of those attending this year’s Step Closer Retreat are already in the service. Seven are in the Navy; four are in the Army; two are in the Air Force; and two are civilians. All have completed the first steps of discernment—applying to the AMS with detailed personal background information; and attending the “Discernment Retreat,” which the AMS sponsors twice a year for young men taking the first steps toward exploring whether or not the priesthood and military chaplaincy are for them.
Father Aidan Logan, O.C.S.O., AMS Director of Vocations, explained:
“The primary purpose of the Step Closer Retreat is to provide an opportunity for those men a little further along the vocation discernment path who are contemplating serving God and His Church as priests, and hopefully military chaplains, to have an experience of prayer in the celebration of sacraments, the quiet of reflection and the joy of fraternity, while also being challenged in thought through a series of talks by priest recruiters and a panel discussion.”
Priest recruiters scheduled to give talks this weekend are Father Logan; Father Jason Hesseling of the Army; Father Benton Garrett of the Navy; and Father Lasarian Nwoga of the Air Force. His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services, will take part in the retreat, address those gathered, and pray with the 15 as they contemplate their “step closer” to priesthood and military service.
It will be up to each candidate to decide, in consultation with his bishop or religious superior, whether to seek permission to apply as a candidate for seminary through the Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program, a partnership between the AMS and local dioceses andreligious communities around the country to support young men called to pursue priestly vocations, both in their home dioceses or religious communities, and in the military.
The AMS is counting heavily on the Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program to help the chaplain shortage. Current trends are encouraging. Since Archbishop Broglio took the helm of the AMS in 2008, thanks in large part to the establishment of an AMS Office of Vocations and the support of U.S. bishops and religious superiors, along with increased awareness and discernment opportunities, the number of co-sponsored seminarians has risen from seven in 2008 to 28 today. They come from 26 U.S. dioceses and are enrolled in 15 seminaries nationwide and the Pontifical North American College in Rome. This year, five of those seminarians will be ordained priests and two priests will go on active duty. Another 13 priests, now in reserve status, are set to phase into active duty over the next three years. Meanwhile, another four men are scheduled to enter the Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program in the fall, and the AMS Office of Vocationsis currently processing the applications of still others.
Some among the 15 scheduled to attend this weekend’s Step Closer Retreat could well be added to those encouraging numbers.
The AMS, which receives no funding from the government and depends entirely on private giving, is now looking for ways to fund a fast-rising seminary bill, now projected at $2.7 million over the next five years. Donations can be made here
Young men interested in discerning a priestly vocation, and the vocation within a vocation to serve those who serve in the U.S. military, can find more information at www.milarch.org/vocations, or may contact Father Logan by email.