Rev. Msgr. John J.M. Foster visits big Navy warship
WASHINGTON, D.C. – United States Navy aircraft carriers are typically the place for admirals, not generals. But this past week, sailors on the carrier USS CARL VINSON (CVN 70) welcomed aboard a special kind of general—the Vicar General of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (AMS). The Reverend Monsignor John J.M. Foster, J.C.D., AMS Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia, paid the carrier an overnight visit May 11-12 as her officers and crew carried out exercises in the Pacific Ocean somewhere off the coast of Ensenada, Mexico.
For Msgr. Foster, who joined the AMS in July, it was an opportunity to get acquainted with how Catholics serving on U.S. warships are able to practice their faith under the pastoral care of Navy chaplains, even as they train for deployment. Father Curtiss Dwyer (CH, LT, USN), who serves on the VINSON with endorsement and faculties from the AMS, concelebrated a Sunday evening Mass with Msgr. Foster in the carrier’s small chapel, and he introduced the Vicar General to other Catholic sailors and officers on board. Msgr. Foster said, “It was an honor to celebrate the Eucharist with the men and women on board the CARL VINSON. Their faith and devotion not only give them strength and support to fulfill their duties but also witness to the important role faith plays in their lives. I am grateful for the ministry Father Dwyer and the chapel staff provide to the ship’s company and air wing.”
Msgr. Foster had arrived a few hours earlier in a “carrier onboard delivery” (COD) transport plane, where the seats face backwards and windows are few. Descending onto the 4 ½ acre flight deck after a half-hour trip from Naval Air Station (NAS) North Island at Naval Base Coronado in San Diego, the plane snagged its tailhook on one of the carrier’s arresting wires, bringing it to an abrupt stop. Msgr. Foster stepped down, along with a small group of fellow visitors, to a warm greeting from the Executive Officer (EO), Captain Walter M. Slaughter.
In between meals in the wardroom and the chiefs’ mess, and a night’s sleep in officer quarters, Msgr. Foster observed daytime and nighttime operations of F/A-18 Hornets, propeller planes, and helicopters as they took off and made landing on the short, narrow flight deck. He received briefings on everything from chaplain activity to ordnance. Rear Admiral Christopher W. Grady, Commander ofCarrier Strike Group (CSG) 1, also gave a briefing to the group. Captain Kent D. Whalen, Commanding Officer of the VINSON, bid farewell to the group before it boarded the COD for the catapult take-off from the carrier.
Following his 26-hour visit to the VINSON, Msgr. Foster flew back to San Diego, and from there, across the country. He returned to the AMS pastoral center in Washington, D.C. with new insight into some of the conditions in which the Navy’s 53 Catholic chaplains on active duty serve those who serve. The officers and crew of the VINSON, meanwhile, continue to train on the high seas in preparation for deployment later this year, with Father Dwyer among their ranks to celebrate Mass, hear confessions, administer other sacraments, and provide spiritual support.
Msgr. Foster seconded what Captain Slaughter told the group in the farewell briefing: “While aboard the ship, one is easily taken with the military hardware and technology, but, in the end, it is the hardworking men and women of the U.S. Navy that you will remember.” The Vicar General added, “Americans rightly can be proud of the men and women who sail in the U.S. Navy and who fly and maintain naval aircraft. With long hours of often hard work and during months away from home, the officers and sailors on the CARL VINSON deserve the gratitude of the nation for doing their part in protecting the United States of America. It was a privilege to visit this fine ship and meet her officers and crew.”