Priests Ordained in Hopes of Joining the United States Navy Chaplain Corps

Fathers Christopher Christensen, James Hinkle and Steven Walker enter the priesthood in their home diocese of Arlington, Va.

Father James Hinkle (left), Father Christopher Christensen (center), and Father Steven Walker (right) with Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio following their ordination Mass on June 7, 2014, in Arlington, Va. Photo courtesy of Stacy Rausch | Catholic Herald.

Father James Hinkle (left), Father Christopher Christensen (center), and Father Steven Walker (right) with Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio following their ordination Mass on June 7, 2014, in Arlington, Va. Photo courtesy of Stacy Rausch | Catholic Herald.

ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA – Three prospective Catholic U.S. Navy chaplains were ordained priests Saturday, June 7, 2014, in their home diocese of Arlington, Va. Father Christopher Christensen, Father James Hinkle, and Father Steven Walker all hope eventually to serve as chaplains in the Navy with endorsement and faculties from the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (AMS).

Bishop Paul S. Loverde of Arlington, Va. ordained the three and three of their classmates at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More, 3901 Cathedral Lane, Arlington, Va., through the laying of hands and the prayer of consecration invoking the Holy Spirit. U.S. Military Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio assisted at the 11:00 a.m. (EDST) ordination Mass.
The new priests all expressed exhilaration over crossing the finish line in their journey toward priesthood. Father Christopher Christensen, 30, a native of Oak Harbor, Wash., put it this way:
“Being ordained a priest is something almost impossible to describe. It is the culmination of a lot of work, but in an even deeper way it is a step in the fulfillment of God’s plan for me. I have a strong sense that it is the work that God has done in me that is primary—that I have been led, drawn, carried along this path by His grace. And for that I have only gratitude.”
Father Christensen attended Notre Dame University and completed his seminary coursework at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa. He studied Japanese and currently holds the rank of lieutenant in the Navy Reserve. Father Christensen celebrated his first Mass—the Solemn Mass of Thanksgiving—on Sunday at Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church in Woodbridge, Va.

Father James Hinkle, 34, a native of Portsmouth, Va., completed his seminary coursework at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. He is a Navy Reserve lieutenant and former submariner. Father Hinkle celebrated the Solemn Mass of Thanksgiving on Sunday at St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Annandale, Va. Father Hinkle said:

“I cannot express the joy I have experienced during and since ordination to the priesthood. There have been many moments of grace, especially celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It was a privilege to have Archbishop Broglio in attendance at the ordination, and Father Michael Morris of the Archdiocese for the Military Services as a concelebrant at my first Mass.”

Father Steven Walker, 28, is a native of Bremerton, Wash. He attended Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa. and completed his coursework at Theological College in Washington, D.C. He celebrated the Solemn Mass of Thanksgiving on Sunday at St. Ambrose Roman Catholic Church in Annandale, VA. Father Walker said:

“Being ordained was such an incredible experience. It was one of the most extraordinary things that has ever happened to me. And yet, there was something very comfortable and natural about everything. It feels like I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to; I’m exactly where God wants me to be. I pray to Mary, St. Joseph, and all the saints and angels that I might be worthy of the awesome office to which I have been called.”

The ordination of three prospective Navy chaplains in one day comes as a welcome development for Catholics in the Sea Services. The Navy is the branch of service where a chronic shortage of Catholic military chaplains, due to growing attrition, is currently severest. Of the 835 active duty chaplains in the Navy’s Chaplain Corps, only 52—or six percent—are Catholic, compared to about eight percent of U.S. military chaplains as a whole. The AMS estimates that 123,000 Catholics serve on active duty in the Navy and Marine Corps; their families and dependents account for an additional 178,000 Catholics; and the Coast Guard has an additional 16,000 Catholics. Catholic priests in the Navy serve all these populations at a current ratio of only one chaplain per 7,000 faithful.

The chaplain shortage comes as more and more priests reach the military’s mandatory retirement age of 62 faster than they can be replaced. Since 9/11, the number of active-duty chaplains throughout the U.S. military has fallen from more than 400 to 225.

Fortunately, help is on the way. The three priestly ordinations on Saturday represent an upward trend in the number of men completing formation to become priests and military chaplains through the Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program, a partnership between the AMS and local dioceses and religious communities to support vocations. Thanks in large part to the support of U.S. bishops and religious superiors, along with increased awareness and discernment opportunities for prospective chaplains, the number of co-sponsored seminarians has risen from seven in 2008 to 31 today, and still more candidates are on the way. Father Christensen, Father Hinkle, and Father Walker are among thirteen prospective chaplains to be ordained this year, either as priests or transitional deacons.

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 at www.milarch.org.