Prospective New Catholic Military Chaplains Celebrate Labor Day Weekend in Nation’s Capital

30 co-sponsored seminarians gather for fraternity, training and prayer

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Thirty prospective Catholic military chaplains gathered in the nation’s capital over the Labor Day weekend for a three-day celebration of prayer, training and fraternity sponsored by the Archdiocese for the Military Services (AMS). The group comprised young men from seminaries across the United States who are enrolled in the Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program, a ongoing partnership between the AMS and local dioceses and religious communities to support priestly vocations and fill a fast-growing shortage of Catholic chaplains in the U.S. military.

The chaplain candidates took part in a full weekend event schedule centered around the AMS chancery near The Catholic University of America, including: Morning and Evening Prayer; a Friday dinner cruise on the Potomac River aboard the chartered vessel Capital Elite; a Saturday morning training session on the Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program; a Saturday afternoon barbeque provided by the Knights of Columbus (K of C); and the celebration of Mass on Saturday, in the Crypt Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and on Sunday, at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling (JBAB).

His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., was the main celebrant and homilist at both Masses. Concelebrants included the AMS Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia, Monsignor John J.M. Foster, J.C.D. and the acting Vocations Director, Father John Kaul.

Father Kaul said:

“The Labor Day Gathering was a grace-filled three days. The energy among the young men was powerfully inspirational to witness. They clearly enjoyed each other’s company and had a great time together. There is great cause for hope in the future of Catholic military priestly ministry.”

The Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program supports priestly vocations recruited largely from the military itself because it has proven to be a rich vocations pool. In its annual survey of newly ordained priests in the U.S., the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University has found that up to 10% had previous military experience and as many as 20% came from military families, making the AMS the largest single source of American priestly vocations.

Co-sponsorship means that a prospective priest receives permission from the bishop of his home diocese, or the superior of his religious community, to participate in the chaplain candidacy program of one of the three branches of the armed forces. The AMS agrees with the home diocese or religious community to split the cost of seminary formation for five years at a cost of $25,000 per year. Each pays 50% of the formation costs which also include tuition, room and board—or about $12,500 per 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 priestly vocation.

For seminarians attending the Labor Day gathering—all in various stages of preparation to become priests and chaplains—the weekend was an opportunity to get to know each other better and learn more about the “vocation within a vocation” that they share in response to the growing need for their service. 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. Since 9/11, the number of active-duty chaplains has fallen from more than 400 to around 250. While Catholics make up about 25% of the U.S. armed forces, Catholic priests currently account for only 8% of military chaplains. Servicemen and women and their families are often left with little choice but turn to ministers of other denominations for pastoral care.

Fortunately, help is on the way through the Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program, which has seen a tremendous increase in enrollment over the past five years, 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 grown from seven in 2008 to a total of 33 today. The AMS is processing the applications of an additional 14 men while yet 23 more are currently in a stage of serious discernment. 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.

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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 priests 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, MM.