Co-Sponsored Seminarians and Clerics Celebrate Labor Day Weekend in Nation’s Capital

More than two dozen gather for fraternity, prayer, and sightseeing

WASHINGTON, D.C. – More than two dozen prospective Catholic military chaplains gathered in the nation’s capital over the Labor Day weekend for a three-day celebration of prayer, program training and fraternity sponsored by the Archdiocese for the Military Services (AMS). The group comprised 27 seminarians and three young priests from 19 dioceses throughout the United States participating in the “Seminarian Co-Sponsorship Program” designed to fill a fast-growing shortage of Catholic priests in the U.S. military.

The chaplain candidates attended, among other events, a Friday evening parade by the United States Marine Band, “The Commandant’s Own” U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps, and the Silent Drill Team at the Marine Barracks at 8th and I Streets near the Navy Yard; a Saturday afternoon barbeque provided by the Knights of Columbus at the AMS chancery near the Catholic University of America, and a Sunday Mass and campus tour at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland hosted by Father Michael Parisi (CAPT, CHC, USN), the senior military chaplain at the Academy, Father Jay Kersten, and his staff. The Mass, at the Naval Academy Chapel, was celebrated by His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services. Concelebrants included Auxiliary Bishop Neal J. Buckon, Episcopal Vicar for the Western Half of the United States, and Father Kerry Abbott, OFM Conv., Director of Vocations.

For the seminarians, all in various stages of preparation to become chaplains, it was an opportunity to get to know each other better and learn more about the vocation within a vocation that they share.

Michael Hofer of the Diocese of Rapid City, South Dakota, said:

“I think the best part about this weekend was just the fraternity. Seeing a bunch of men, pursuing the same goal—priestly service in the military—is always encouraging, and it’s also encouraging to see this kind of support also from the Archbishop and his auxiliary bishop as well as Father Kerry and several other priests in the military.”

The shortage of Catholic military chaplains comes as more and more priests reach the military’s mandatory retirement age of 62 faster than they can be replaced. The number of active-duty chaplains has fallen from more than 400 in 2001 to 260 today. While Catholics make up about 25% of the U.S. armed forces, Catholic priests currently account for only 8% of military chaplains.

The Seminarian Co-Sponsorship Program supports priestly vocations recruited largely from the military itself because it has proven to be a rich vocations pool. The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University conducts an annual survey of newly ordained priests in the U.S. It finds that nearly 10% have previous military experience and about 20% come from military families, making the AMS the largest single source of American priestly vocations.

Mark Bristol of the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York noted that the military and the priesthood share a large set of common values, including “discipline, courage, justice, and self-giving sacrifice.”

Mr. Bristol said:

“We sacrifice for Christ and they sacrifice for the country. The country’s always changing but what is always constant is Christ. I think that a Soldier is strengthened, is more effective when he focuses on God and then his country, serving both God and country rather than just his country.”

Co-sponsorship means that a diocesan bishop or religious superior agrees to accept a prospective chaplain in his diocese or religious community as a seminarian, and that the seminarian will participate in the chaplain candidacy program of one of the three branches of the armed forces. The AMS and the seminarian’s home diocese or religious community split the cost of his five-year, $25,000-per-year education in half, each paying 50% of tuition, room and board and other expenses, or about $12,500 a year.

Once the new priest is ordained, the bishop or religious superior typically agrees to release him for military service after at least three years of pastoral experience in his diocese or community. When the priest leaves the military, he returns to the diocese or community for further pastoral work. So both the AMS and the priest’s home diocese or religious community benefit from his ministry.

The AMS was created as an independent archdiocese by Pope John Paul II in 1985 as the only Catholic jurisdiction responsible for endorsing and granting faculties for priests to serve as chaplains in the U.S. military and VA Medical Centers. AMS-endorsed chaplains serve at more than 220 U.S. military installations in 29 countries, making the AMS the nation’s only global archdiocese. AMS-endorsed chaplains also serve at 153 VA Medical Centers throughout the U.S.

The AMS service population also includes American Catholic civilians working for the federal government in 134 countries, but currently, due to limited resources, the AMS cannot adequately serve this population.

Worldwide, an estimated 1.8 million Catholics depend on the AMS to meet their spiritual and sacramental needs.

For more information on the Archdiocese for the Military Services, visit www.milarch.org, the only official Web site for Catholics in the military and for the Cause of Father Vincent Capodanno, M.M.