AMS Plans Discernment Retreat for Prospective Chaplains as Church Observes National Vocation Awareness Week

Nov. 13 benefit at Saint John Paul II Shrine offers faithful opportunity to support Catholic vocations in the U.S. Military

WASHINGTON, D.C.—As the Catholic Church in the United States observes National Vocation Awareness Week Nov. 2-8, the Vocations Office of theArchdiocese for the Military Services, USA (AMS), is preparing to host its annual Fall Discernment Retreat for young men considering a vocation to the priesthood and a career as a Catholic military chaplain. Twenty-five (25) men are scheduled to participate in the retreat Nov. 20-23 at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio. These men, seeking to discern a vocation, include three civilians as well as servicemen from all three branches of the U.S. armed forces: eight (8) from the Army; four (4) from the Navy; and ten (10) from the Air Force. At least ten are cadets—five at the Military Academy at West Point, and another five at the Air Force Academy in Colorado.

The strong show of interest, particularly among the ranks of the military, is an encouraging sign for the AMS, which has been working diligently to reverse a long-running, downward trend in the number of Catholic priests serving on active duty. The trend results from more and more aging priests reaching the military’s mandatory retirement age of 62 faster than they can be replaced, leaving a large, growing shortage of Catholic chaplains. Since the time of 9/11, even as America has waged its longest war, the active-duty roster has shrunk by more than 40%—from more than 400 to fewer than 230—and increasingly, they have their work cut out for them, serving more than 300,000 military Catholics and their families stationed all over the world. Currently, 25% of the U.S. military is Catholic, but Catholic priests make up only 8% of the chaplain corps.

At the same time, the military itself has proven to be one of the nation’s strongest sources of Catholic priestly vocations. According to an annual survey by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University, upwards of 10% of all newly ordained U.S. priests in recent years have themselves served in the military, and 20% or more came from military family backgrounds. The AMS Director of Vocations, Father Aidan Logan, O.S.C.O., says the large showing of servicemen signed up to attend the Fall Discernment Retreat reflects a continuation of this trend. “Some of these men have experienced first-hand what it means to be deployed without a priest,” he said. “They are especially sensitive to God’s call, and the vocation within a vocation to serve as a chaplain to the Catholic military population.”

In an ongoing effort to tap the military for new priests, the AMS is working through the Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program, a 25-year-old, vocations support partnership between the AMS and local dioceses and religious communities. Thanks in large part to the support of U.S. bishops and religious superiors, along with the 2008 creation of an AMS Office of Vocations, and increased awareness and discernment opportunities for prospective chaplains, the number of co-sponsored seminarians has risen over the past six years from seven to 32. By comparison, from 2005 to 2008, so few prospective chaplains were in the pipeline that not a single priestly ordination was celebrated during the entire three-year period. From 2008 until the end of this year, however, 13 new priests will have been ordained on the path to chaplaincy.

With Father Logan in place as Vocations Director, building upon the trailblazing success of his predecessors, Fathers John Kaul and Kerry Abbott, O.F.M. Conv., and Msgr. John McLaughlin, Jr., more prospects are on the way, including, perhaps, some of the 25 signed up to attend the Fall Discernment Retreat. They will spend the weekend in prayer, celebrating holy hours, receiving the sacrament ofreconciliation, and talking about what it means to discern a vocation. Father Logan, himself a retired Navy chaplain, will share his experiences, along with other priests and chaplains still on active duty. His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services, will personally participate, joining the group in prayer and discussion sessions as well as celebratingMass.

But while the growing number of chaplain prospects is promising, Archbishop Broglio says he still needs prayers and support from the faithful. Because of the sharp growth of the Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program, the AMS is now confronted with a fast-rising seminary bill. Six years ago, when only seven young men were enrolled, it was running less than $90,000 per year. The bill is now approaching $400,000 per year. And taking expected tuition increases into account, the projected cost for the next five years is $2.7 million. That’s in addition to the AMS’s annual operating budget of $5.1 million.

The AMS receives no funding from the government, and since Catholic congregations in U.S. military chapels are restricted in the use of their Sunday collections, they provide the archdiocese with little income on a regular basis. The AMS survives almost entirely on private giving, which funds all expenses including support for vocations and the education of future priests and chaplains.

On Nov. 13, the faithful will have an opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way by joining Archbishop Broglio and his four Auxiliary Bishops at the AMS 6th Annual Benefit. It will be held at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine, 3900 Harewood Road, Northeast, in Washington, D.C. 20017. The reception starts at 7:00 p.m. (EST). Tickets and sponsorship levels are as follows:

$250 per individual
$500 per couple
$1,000 (Trustee)
$2,500 (Patriot)
$5,000 (Vocations Sponsor)
$10,000 (Leadership Sponsor)
$25,000 (National Sponsor)
$35,000 (Corporate Sponsor)
$50,000 (Pastoral Sponsor)

Donations can also be made here.

Proceeds will go to support Catholic military chaplain vocations and other pastoral services to Catholics in uniform.

“According to the Constitution of the United States of America,” Archbishop Broglio said, “the exercise of religion, according to one’s conscience, is a right. The commanding officer of an installation must ensure that his or her dependents can practice the religion in which they believe. It is up to Catholics to provide the support necessary to ensure the other dimensions of an authentically Catholic religious program.”