WASHINGTON, D.C. – Father John (Frank) O’Grady, CH (LT), USA, a longtime U.S. Army chaplain currently assigned to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., has been selected as one of eight finalists for Catholic Extension’s 2017-18 Lumen Christi Award. Now in its 40th year, the Lumen Christi Award annually honors an individual or group working in one of America’s mission dioceses who demonstrates how the power of faith can transform lives and communities. Catholic Extension’s panel of judges chose the finalists among 45 nominees. The finalists will each receive $10,000 to put back into their respective ministries. The ultimate award recipient, to be named in the fall, will receive $25,000 with another $25,000 going to the winner’s diocese.
In his letter of nomination, Archbishop Broglio wrote:
“Father O’Grady’s compassionate pastoral care has revealed the light of Christ to active duty military personnel and their families in South Korea, Germany, and throughout the United States. His ministry of presence nourishes the faithful amid many trials. As a Clinical Chaplain, at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland for the past seven years, he is frequently found praying with those severely injured in combat. His frequent visits to soldiers receiving treatment for the long-haul brought spiritual healing when hope was difficult to grasp.”
In recognition of his exemplary ministry after the 9/11 Pentagon attack, Father O’Grady received an Army Commendation Medal for his “leadership, dedication to duty and calm professional demeanor during a time of extreme crisis,” enabling him to “flawlessly perform” his duties. Ministering to the survivors and families of the victims, he spent five nights at the Pentagon. His duty: to take care of the mortuary section of the recovery operation.
In 2000, Father O’Grady helped the U.S. Military community in Darmstadt, Germany, deal with a particularly unusual tragic event. On February 27, three American teenagers gathered on an autobahn overpass and hurled 20-pound rocks over an eight-foot high plastic barrier, killing two German drivers and severely injuring others. The deaths and consequent criminal charges provoked a wave of soul-searching, consciousness of guilt, and bewilderment in the community of seven-thousand Americans. While acknowledging to the Washington Post that the incident cast “a cloud over all of us, over anyone wearing a uniform and their families,” Father O’Grady took a leadership role and encouraged those who came to the Army post’s chapel to pray for the victims, the youths, and their families. As the youths were prosecuted in German court, Father O’Grady counseled those struggling with the tragedy and helped the community find healing.
According to AMS documentation submitted to Catholic Extension in support of Archbishop Broglio’s nomination, Father O’Grady “has led the military communities in each of his assignments through the healing sacraments and prayer. He encouraged military leaders to serve with character and provided spiritual guidance to all who struggled to cope with unmet expectations. This theme of leading prayer, celebrating the Sacraments, and guiding soldiers and families through difficult times highlights the importance of the ministry of the Priest in the military. In a particular way it also points to the gifts that Father O’Grady possesses. Those gifts enabled him to move in and out of people’s lives at key moments, listening to their need, honoring their dignity, and encouraging them in prayer.”
So great has been Father O’Grady’s impact at Walter Reed that the Army called him out of retirement to help fill the need for priests there and do what the hospital community knows he does so well: guide felled warriors and their families through agony, illness, and grief, always pointing the way toward the hope of Jesus Christ.