WHITE POST, VA. –This weekend, eight men will take a “step closer” to discerning whether God is calling them to be Catholic priests in the United States Military. The eight are scheduled to gather for a period of prayer and reflection in the June 23-26 “Step Closer Retreat” at the San Damiano Spiritual Life Center in White Post, Va.
The Step Closer Retreat is sponsored annually by the Vocations Office of theArchdiocese 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 220. Currently, 25% of the military is Catholic, but Catholic priests make up only 8% of the chaplain corps.
As in recent years, most of those attending this year’s Step Closer Retreat have already served, or are still serving, in the Armed Forces. Three are from the Army; two are from the Navy; one is from the Air Force; and two are civilians without prior military experience. 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.”
Priests and recruiters scheduled to give talks this weekend are Father Logan, Father Boguslaw Augustyn of the Army, Father Benton Garrett of the Navy, and Father Tom Foley of the Air Force. His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services, will take an active part in the retreat, address those gathered, and pray with the eight 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 and religious 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.
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 at firstname.lastname@example.org.