7 priests and 2 deacons ordained in banner year for new vocations to fill growing shortage of Catholic military chaplains
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Working hard to reverse a growing shortage of Catholic chaplains in the United States military, the Archdiocese for the Military Services (AMS) is reaping the fruits of its labor this graduation season—a bumper harvest of new priests and deacons coming out of seminaries with a commitment to potential active-duty service.
Over the past two months, seven prospective chaplains have been ordained priests and two others have been ordained transitional deacons in preparation for eventual priestly ordination. That’s a sharp increase from last year, when only two priests were ordained, and the year before, when there were no ordinations.
All nine come from military backgrounds and are products of the “Seminarian Co-Sponsorship Program,” a thriving vocations support partnership set up between the AMS and cooperating U.S. dioceses and religious communities to replenish the ranks of Catholic priests both in the U.S. military and throughout the Church by supporting vocations drawn largely from the armed forces.
Among those recently ordained priests:
• Father Christopher Rhodes was ordained May 26 at the Cathedral of the Assumption in Louisville, Kentucky.
• Father Stuart King was ordained May 26 at the Cathedral of St. Francis de Sales in Houma, Louisiana.
• Father David Reamsnyder was ordained June 9 at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore, Maryland.
• Father Stephen Cotter was ordained June 9 at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore.
• Father Michael Taylor was ordained June 9 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany, New York.
• Father Brian Wood was ordained June 23 at Christ the King Cathedral in Lubbock, Texas.
• Father Andrew Young was ordained June 29 at St. Joseph Cathedral in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
In addition to the newly ordained priests, Rev. Mr. Angel Marrero was ordained a transitional deacon May 12 at the Basilica of the Assumption in Baltimore and Rev. Mr. Jason Burchell was ordained a transitional deacon June 2 at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington, Virginia. Both will hopefully be ordained priests next year.
The shortage of Catholic military chaplains comes as more and more priests reach the military’s mandatory retirement age of 62 faster than they can be replaced. The number of active-duty chaplains has fallen from more than 400 in 2001 to 243 today. While Catholics make up about 25% of the U.S. armed forces, Catholic priests currently account for only 8% of military chaplains.
The Seminarian Co-Sponsorship Program targets the military because it has proven to be a rich pool of priestly vocations. The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University conducts an annual survey of newly ordained priests in the U.S. It finds that nearly 10% have previous military experience and about 20% come from military families, making the AMS the largest single source of American priestly vocations.
Co-sponsorship means that a diocesan bishop or religious superior agrees to accept a prospective chaplain in his diocese or religious community as a seminarian, and that the seminarian will participate in the chaplain candidacy program of one of the three branches of the armed forces. The AMS and the seminarian’s home diocese or religious community split the cost of his five-year, $25,000-per-year education in half, each paying 50% of tuition, room and board and other expenses, or about $12,500 a year.
Once the new priest is ordained, the bishop or religious superior typically agrees to release him for military service after at least three years of pastoral experience in his diocese or community. When the priest leaves the military, he returns to the diocese or community for further pastoral work. So both the AMS and the priest’s home diocese or religious community benefit from his ministry.
Father Kerry Abbott, OFM Conv., AMS Director of Vocations, said 43 current or soon-to-be seminarians, transitional deacons and newly ordained priests are now committed to become chaplains under the Co-Sponsorship Program, up from 32 in August, 23 last academic year, 12 in 2009-10, and seven in 2008-09. Meanwhile, the AMS is currently processing the applications of 25 others.
Father Abbott said:
“This dramatic growth in young Catholic servicemen committing themselves to serve as priest-chaplains is really an amazing blessing. It is an indication that the Holy Spirit is working not only throughout the Church in general, but also within the armed forces to recruit vocations at a time of great need. And how appropriate! No one knows better than a Soldier, an Airman, a Sailor or a Marine the meaning of service to a greater good, and how great the cost.”
The new priests expressed joy at their ordinations.
Father Rhodes said:
“I am deeply humbled and overwhelmed with gratitude by the amount of support and affirmation I continue to receive as a result of my vocation.”
Father King said:
“I sensed a remarkably powerful presence of the Holy Spirit, during both the ordination itself and my First Mass as a priest on Pentecost Sunday.”
The AMS was created as an independent archdiocese by Pope John Paul II in 1985 to provide the Catholic Church’s full range of pastoral ministries and spiritual services to Catholics serving in the U.S. armed forces, enrolled in U.S. military academies, undergoing treatment in Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Centers, working for the U.S. Government in civilian jobs outside of the country, and their families.
As the nation’s only archdiocese without geographical boundaries, the AMS endorses and grants faculties to priests for on-site ministry at more than 220 U.S. military installations in 29 countries and 153 VA Medical Centers throughout the U.S. Additionally, American Catholic civilians serve the federal government in 134 countries, but due to limited resources, the AMS cannot adequately serve this population. Worldwide, an estimated 1.8 million Catholics depend on the AMS to meet their spiritual and sacramental needs.
For more information on the Archdiocese for the Military Services, visit www.milarch.org, the only official Web site for Catholics in the military and for the Cause of Father Vincent Capodanno, M.M.