MENLO PARK, CALIFORNIA— Thirty-four (34) young men gathered here the weekend of March 3-6 for a discernment retreat aimed at helping them determine if they are called by the Holy Spirit to be Catholic priests and military chaplains. They included more than two dozen servicemen from every service branch of the United States Armed Forces. The Vocations Office of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (AMS), conducted the annual retreat at St. Patrick’s Seminary.
Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio took 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 included ten (10) from the Army; sixteen (16) from the Navy; one (1) from the Air Force; and seven (7) 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 Nov. 17-20 at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y.
The registration of thirty-four 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 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 216. 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 by the Center of Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University, at least 6% of U.S. priests ordained last year once served in the Armed Forces, and at least 16% came from military families.
The AMS continues to tap this source for prospective 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 through the “Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program.” The Program was established some thirty years ago to encourage military service commitments from young men preparing for priesthood in cooperating dioceses and religious communities. Enrollment has grown from seven (7) in 2008 to thirty (30) this year. More are expected to enter the Program in the fall, and the AMS is processing applications of still others.
Father Logan said:
“The numbers and enthusiasm of the men participating in this retreat shows that God continues to inspire young men to hear and answer His call to the priesthood and military chaplaincy. All of us, priests and deacons, parents, family members and friends, are part of the web of support they will need persevere as candidates and seminarians. Prayer and financial support for vocations are both important but, first and foremost, a positive response from those closest to them can make all the difference.”
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 here, or may contact Father Logan by email firstname.lastname@example.org.