AMS Celebrates Catholic Priestly Ordination of Three Former Anglican Military Chaplains Ordination Mass celebrated at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Walsingham

Bishop Steven J. Lopes ordains Father Matthew Whitehead, one of three Anglican U.S. Military chaplains ordained Catholic priests on May 31, 2018, in Houston, TX. Photo courtesy of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.

HOUSTON, TX – The Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (AMS) is celebrating the Catholic priestly ordinations of three United States Military chaplains and former Anglican priests. All entered the Catholic priesthood through the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, erected by the Vatican in 2012 for Roman Catholics who were nurtured in the Anglican tradition or whose faith has been renewed by the liturgy and evangelizing mission of the Ordinariate. The Ordinariate was established to provide a way for groups of former Anglicans to become Roman Catholic, while retaining elements of their worship traditions and spiritual heritage.

The three chaplains were ordained in the Catholic Church on Thursday, May 31, through the Imposition of Hands and the Invocation of the Holy Spirit by the Most Rev. Steven J. Lopes, Bishop of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, during Holy Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Walsingham, the Ordinariate’s principal church. His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services, USA, concelebrated the ordination Mass.

Ordained were Fathers Joseph W. Reffner, CH (CPT), USA; Matthew Whitehead, CH (CPT), USA; and Aaron Bayles, Ch Maj USAF. Watch the ordination Mass here.

“I decided to become Catholic because the Catholic Church is the One True Church which Christ founded,” Father Reffner said. “It took several years of prayer, study, and faith for me to reach this conclusion. Much of this was driven by a search for certitude of truth, doctrine, and practical theology and application. Only the Catholic Church was valid and universal in sacraments, truth, and doctrine for all ages.”

“I began to be drawn to the Church in 2009,” Father Whitehead said, “when Pope Benedict XVI promulgated the Apostolic Constitution, Anglicanorum Coetibus. There were many of us in the Anglican tradition who sought the fullness of the sacramental life, and that document opened the way for Anglican clergy like me to enter full Catholic communion. It was a long and winding road that brought me to the Church, but I was encouraged along the way by so many clergy and lay faithful across the various dioceses where my military assignments have taken me.  It was a special honor for me to have Archbishop Broglio at the ordination, and to have Father Matt Pawlikowski as my vesting priest.” Father Pawlikowsi, CH (COL), USA, is the Chaplain of the U.S. Military Academy(i.e., the principal chaplain at West Point).

Father Whitehead said his first act as a Catholic priest was traveling to Kansas to join the 60-mile pilgrimage in honor of Korean War hero, posthumous Medal of Honor recipient, and Servant of God Father Emil Kapaun of the Diocese of Wichita, who died in a prisoner-of-war camp in 1951.

“My entry into the Catholic church is a homecoming to a place where my heart has always longed to reside,” Father Bayles said. “Drawn to the worship of God in the beauty of his holiness I was captivated by the music and liturgy of the Anglican traditions, but my faith and theology were always staunchly catholic. It is with immense gratitude and thanksgiving to our Lord Jesus Christ for his great faithfulness in bringing about Anglicanorum Coetibus. In this Apostolic Constitution Pope Benedict XVI created a means to achieving to visible unity for Anglicans so that we might fulfill the will of our  Lord Jesus Christ as he desired ‘that we all may be one.'”

All three former Anglican priests will continue to serve as U.S. Military chaplains, but from now on, with endorsement and faculties from the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA.