Enter advanced stage in discernment of priesthood and military chaplaincy
LUTZ, FLORIDA –This weekend, ten men will take a “step closer” to discerning whether God is calling them to be Catholic priests in the United States military. The ten are scheduled to gather for a period of prayer and reflection in the June 19-22 “Step Closer Retreat” at the Bethany Center in Lutz, Florida.
The Step Closer Retreat is sponsored annually by the Vocations Office of the Archdiocese 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 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 declined from more than 400 to fewer than 230. 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 are already in the service. Five are in the Air Force; three are in the Army; two are civilians. 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 in 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.”
Priest recruiters scheduled to give talks this weekend are Father Joel Panzer of the Army; Father Benton Garrett of the Navy; and Father Lasarian Nwoga of the Air Force. His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services, will play a key role in the retreat, counseling and praying with the ten 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.
The AMS is counting heavily on the Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program to help overcome the chaplain shortage. Current trends are encouraging. Since 2008, the number of men enrolled in the Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program has risen from seven in to more than 30. This year, six will be ordained transitional deacons on their path toward priesthood, and another five will be ordained priests.
Some among the ten scheduled to attend the Step Closer Retreat could well be added to those hopeful numbers.
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 Aidan Logan, O.C.S.O., AMS Vocations Director, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.