33 Men Gather for Discernment Retreat on Possible Vocations as U.S. Military Chaplains

West Coast gathering a part of ongoing effort to replace growing shortage of Catholic chaplains in the armed forces

MENLO PARK, CALIFORNIA—Thirty-three (33) men from every service branch of the United States armed forces will gather here this weekend for a March 5-8 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 military. The prospective chaplain candidates include four (4) from the U.S. Army; seventeen (17) from the U.S. Navy; four (4) from the U.S. Air Force; and eight (8) civilians.

This is one of two discernment retreats that the AMS holds annually in the United States, one on either side of the country. This year, the eastern retreat will take place Nov. 19-22.

The registration of 33 participants in Menlo Park reflects a trend of strong turnouts over the past few years. That 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 230. Currently, 25% of the U.S. military is Catholic, but Catholic priests make up only 8% of the chaplain corps, representing only one priest for every 1,300 Catholics in uniform, not counting families of those service members.

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 by the Center of Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University, as many as one out of every ten newly ordained priests once served in the armed forces and as many as one in five came from military families.

The AMS continues to tap this source for prospective new chaplains. The Vocations Office 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. The number of seminarians, deacons, and priests enrolled in the “Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program,” created to support military chaplain vocations through partner dioceses, has grown from seven (7) in 2008 to 30 this year. More are expected to enter the program in the fall, and the AMS is processing applications of still others.

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 vocations@milarch.org.