West Coast gathering a part of diligent efforts to replace growing shortage of Catholic chaplains in the armed forces
MENLO PARK, CALIFORNIA—Twenty-four (24) men from every service branch of the United States armed forces are gathered here today for a March 20-23 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 (AMS) is conducting the four-day retreat at St. Patrick’s Seminary. The prospective chaplains include the following: two (2) from the U.S. Army; eleven (11) from the U.S. Navy; five (5) from the U.S. Air Force; and six (6) from the U.S. Coast Guard.
The strong turnout is a great sign of encouragement to the AMS, which is working diligently to overcome a growing shortage of Catholic priests serving as chaplains in the U.S. military. 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 fewer than 240. Currently, 25% of the U.S. military is Catholic, but Catholic priests make up only 8% of the chaplain corps.
To fill this shortage, the AMS Office of Vocations, in cooperation with local bishops and religious communities, is inviting more and more young men to discern whether they are called to pursue priestly vocations and eventual chaplaincy in the military. Over the past five years, this outreach has begun to yield a bountiful harvest. The number of seminarians, deacons and priests enrolled in the “ Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program,” created to support military chaplain vocations through partner dioceses and religious communities, has risen from seven (7) in 2008 to 33 this year. More are expected to enter the program in the fall, and the AMS is processing applications of still others.
Church studies show the military itself is the largest single source of U.S. priestly vocations. According to an annual Survey of Ordinands to the Priesthood by the Center of Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, in recent years as many as one out of every ten newly ordained priests once served in the armed forces and one in five came from military families. The weekend discernment retreat now underway offers promise that more will be added to those ranks.
The AMS annually conducts two discernment retreats for young men in the process of discerning whether they are called to priesthood and military chaplaincy—one in the western U.S., and one on the eastern section of the country. The eastern retreat will be held in the fall and a time and place yet to be determined. The retreat now underway in Menlo Park is the first to be directed by the new AMS Director of Vocations, Father Aidan Logan, O.C.S.O., who took office in January, replacing the retired Father Kerry Abbott, O.F.M. Conv.
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.