MENLO PARK, CALIFORNIA— Twenty (20) men from every service branch of the United States Armed Forces and civilian life will gather here this weekend for a March 23-26 discernment retreat aimed at helping them determine if they are called by the Holy Spirit to be Catholic priests and military chaplains. The Vocations Office of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (AMS), is conducting the annual retreat at St. Patrick’s Seminary.
Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio will take part in the four days of prayer, reflection, and talks, along with Vocations Director Father Aidan Logan, O.C.S.O., and active-duty chaplains currently assigned to each of the three branches of the U.S. Military. The prospective chaplain candidates include four (4) from the Army; three (3) from the Navy; three (3) from the Air Force; and ten (10) civilians.
This is one of two discernment retreats that the AMS holds annually in the United States, one on either side of the country. The eastern retreat will take place in the fall at a date and location to be determined.
The registration of twenty participants in Menlo Park reflects a trend of strong turnouts over the past few years. That is a great sign of encouragement for the AMS, which is working diligently to overcome a desperate shortage of Catholic priests serving as active-duty U.S. Military chaplains. The shortage comes as aging chaplains reach the Military’s mandatory retirement age of 62 faster than they can be replaced. Since the time of 9/11, the active-duty roster has shrunk from more than 400 to 205. Currently, 25% of the Military is Catholic, but Catholic priests make up only 8% of the chaplain corps, leaving them stretched thin over a globally dispersed faith community on a scale of only one priest per 1300 service members, not counting their families.
Church studies show the Military itself has become one of the largest sources of U.S. priestly vocations in recent years. According to an annual Survey of Ordinands to the Priesthood conducted by the Center of Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University, anywhere from 4 to 10 percent of U.S. priests ordained year in and year out in the U.S. once served in the Armed Forces, and as many as 20 percent come from military families.
The AMS continues to tap this source for prospective chaplains. The Vocations staff is focusing attention on active-duty servicemen expressing an interest in the priesthood, inviting more of them to attend one of the discernment retreats. Over the past few years, this outreach has begun to yield a bountiful harvest, with an increasing number of young men answering “yes” to God’s call through the “Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program.” The AMS established this vocations partnership with cooperating U.S. dioceses in the 1980s to encourage military service commitments from candidates for priesthood. Enrollment has grown from seven (7) in 2008 to thirty-seven (37) this year. More are expected to enter the Program in the fall, and the AMS is processing applications of still others.
Now, the AMS is struggling to pay for their tuition and other seminary expenses, with its share projected at nearly $3 million over the next five years alone. The AMS receives no funding from the military or the government.
Anyone wishing to make a donation may do so at www.milarch.org/donate.
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.