WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (AMS), is celebrating the ordinations of two prospective U.S. Navy chaplains. Father Mark Bristol, 31, was ordained a priest on Saturday, June 4, in Brooklyn, N.Y. Reverend Mr. Samuel Schneider, 25, was ordained a transitional deacon on Sunday, June 5, in Superior, Wis. Both prospective chaplains hope eventually to serve on active duty in the U.S. Navy with endorsement and faculties from the AMS.
Father Bristol was ordained at the Co-Cathedral of Saint Joseph through the laying of hands and the prayer of consecration invoking the Holy Spirit by His Excellency, the Most ReverendNicholas DiMarzio, Ph.D., D.D., Bishop of Brooklyn. AMS Auxiliary Bishop Robert J. Coyleconcelebrated the ordination Mass. On Sunday, Father Bristol celebrated his first Mass atImmaculate Conception Parish in Jamaica, Queens, using a chalice that once belonged to Vietnam War hero, Father Vincent R. Capodanno, M.M., Servant of God.
Father Bristol is the son of Mr. Martin Bristol and Mrs. Pauline Bristol of Loganville, Ga. His parents attended the ordination, along with the new priest’s brother, Mr. Simon-Walter Bristol and his wife Mrs. Tina Bristol and their daughters Jessica and Lela of New York, N.Y.; and their sister, Ms. Persis Bristol and her husband, Mr. Raul Esimi, and their daughters Akira and Ariel of Loganville Ga.
Father Bristol, who converted to Catholicism at the age of sixteen, says his journey toward priesthood started when he was just eight years old. He went to a Protestant summer camp that year and “asked Jesus to come into my life.” He says that “since that day, my relationship with Him has been a constant journey of me falling in love with Him, me running away from Him, Jesus running after me, and me returning back to Him, who is my first love.”
Before entering St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y., Father Bristol spent nine years in the Navy, both on active duty and in the reserves, during which time he served on deployment to the Horn of Africa in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. He enlisted as an Information Systems Technician upon graduation from Atlantic Community High School in Delray Beach, Fla., and was assigned to the USS Mount Whitney (LCC-20), based in Gaeta, Italy. He happened to be there whenPope Saint John Paul II died in 2005, and it was while attending the Holy Father’s funeral in Rome that he sensed the call to discern a vocation. “I was still running away from God,” he says. “While I was standing there shoulder to shoulder in the midst of over a million people from all over world, I heard the Lord say in my heart, ‘What happened to that fire that was in your heart for me and my Church when you first became Catholic?’ I repented that day and made a promise to myself to go on a pilgrimage to World Youth Day in hopes to rekindle that flame. When I went to World Youth Day in 2005 in Cologne, that flame was rekindled and I realized that God was still calling me to priesthood.”
Of his priestly ordination, Father Bristol remarked:
“God in His mercy has given me this amazing gift to be a priest of Jesus Christ and I pray that I will be an instrument of His mercy to others. Having served in the Navy as enlisted sailor for over nine years I know the great need for priests in the military and I am anxious to return to active duty to bring the sacraments and the presence of Christ to my shipmates and the Marines. I am also looking forward to serving the people of the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens who have nurtured me and supported me throughout my time in the seminary. They have taught me what it means to be a servant and that no matter where I go, I can always return home to Brooklyn, the city of my birth.”
Rev. Mr. Schneider was ordained at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Superior, Wis., through the laying of hands and the prayer of consecration invoking the Holy Spirit by His Excellency, the Most Reverend James Patrick Powers, Bishop of Superior. The AMS Vocations Director, FatherAidan Logan, O.C.S.O., concelebrated the ordination Mass. In attendance were the new transitional deacon’s parents, Mr. David and Mrs. Paula Schneider of Rhinelander, Wis.; his brother, Mr. Donald Schneider and his wife, Mrs. Mariah Schneider of Rhinelander, Wis.; his sister, Ms. Mary Schneider and her fiancé, Mr. Erich Bartos of Milwaukee, Wis.; his paternal grandparents, Mr. Ferd and Mrs. Marcia Schneider of Rhinelander, Wis.; his maternal grandmother, Ms. Marie Barfknecht of Rhinelander, Wis.; and many proud uncles, aunts, and cousins. One brother, Petty Officer Third Class William Schneider, ABE3, USN, could not attend because he is on active duty at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash.
Diaconal ordination marks the next-to-last step in Rev. Mr. Schneider’s formational journey. He hopes to be ordained a priest in June of next year and go on active duty as a U.S. Navy Chaplain following three years of pastoral service in the Diocese of Superior.
Rev. Mr. Schneider’s formational journey began five years ago when he transferred from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., where he was studying quantitative economics, to theUniversity of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., to study philosophy at St. John Vianney College Seminary. After earning his Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in 2013, he entered the St. Paul Seminary, where he is now in the final year of study for a Master of Divinity Degree before priestly ordination.
Rev. Mr. Schneider said:
“God is so good! At times in difficulty I doubted God’s plan for my life, but now I know more than ever that ‘He knows what He is about’ and I wish I had more than one life to give Him.”
Father Bristol and Rev. Mr. Schneider are among a growing number of men in formation to become priests and U.S. Military chaplains through the Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program, a vocations partnership between the AMS and local dioceses and religious communities to support young men discerning priesthood and fill a fast-growing shortage of Catholic chaplains in the U.S. Armed Forces.
The 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 has fallen from more than 400 to 214. The shortage is particularly acute in the Navy, where only 48 priests now serve on active duty, only 36 of whom may be deployed at any given time. While Catholics make up about 25% of the U.S. Military, Catholic priests currently account for only 8% of military chaplains.
In remarks last November to the Fall General Assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore, His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services, said the need for Catholic military chaplains has become “desperate.” He urged his brother bishops to release more priests to serve on active duty, saying it is “imperative that every diocese have at least one priest to ensure that your faithful who defend our religious freedom do not have to sacrifice theirs.”
Archbishop Broglio pointed out that dioceses throughout the U.S. stand to gain a return on any investment of priestly manpower in the military, not only because servicemen and women and their families come from those dioceses, and many will return upon completion of their military service, but also because the military has proven to be one of the greatest sources of new American vocations. Year in and year out, anywhere from four to ten percent of young men entering the priesthood in the U.S. once served in the U.S. Military, and as many as 20% come from military families, according to an annual survey conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. Those numbers would likely grow if only more priests were sent into the military to gather the harvest.
Meanwhile, thanks in large part to the ongoing 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 29 today. They come from 26 U.S. dioceses and are enrolled in 19 seminaries nationwide. This year, three of those seminarians, including Father Bristol, will be ordained priests, and two, including Rev. Mr. Schneider, will be ordained transitional deacons in preparation for priesthood.
Also this year, one priest will go on active duty. Another 10 priests, now in reserve status, are set to phase into active duty over the next two years. Meanwhile, another nine men are scheduled to enter the Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program in the fall, and the AMS Office of Vocations is currently processing the applications of still others.
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 $2.9 million over the next five years. Donations can be made 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 the Vocations Director, Father Aidan Logan, O.C.S.O., by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.