Former Protestant Air Force Chaplain to be ordained a Catholic priest in May
HOUMA, LOUISIANA – Reverend Mister Stuart King, a former active-duty Protestant military Chaplain and married father of two, was ordained a transitional Catholic Deacon by His Excellency, the Most Reverend Sam G. Jacobs, Bishop of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana on Sunday, February 5 at St. Bernadette Soubirous Catholic Church in Houma. The ordination marks the next-to-last step in Deacon King’s formational journey toward ordination as a Catholic priest and potential service as an active-duty Catholic Air Force Chaplain.
Deacon King, 49, began his career in ministry as a Baptist minister in 1989. He was ordained a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church in 2000, but later converted to Catholicism. After receiving approval from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to pursue Catholic priestly ordination, he graduated from Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey in May 2011 with a Master of Arts degree in Systematic Theology.
Before entering the Catholic seminary, Reverend Mister King served as an active-duty Protestant Chaplain for 18 months in the United States Army and more than 11 years in the U.S. Air Force.
Deacon King said:
“My conversion occurred when I was studying for my Doctor of Ministry with the Eastern Orthodox Church. We were reading the writings of the early Church fathers, and I saw how essential it was to the fathers to be in full communion with the pope, as the successor to St. Peter… Soon my wife, Bettina, and I began praying every day that, if it were his will, the Lord would open the door for me to be ordained a Catholic priest… After Bettina and I prayed every day for seven years, God opened the door. I separated from active duty in the Air Force as a Protestant chaplain in order to complete my application for ordination in the Catholic Church, and then the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome gave approval in October 2009 for my formation as a priest to begin.”
Born in Halifax, Canada, Reverend Mister King is a naturalized U.S. citizen. He and his Hungarian-born wife are the proud parents of two daughters: Hannah, 7; and Sophia, 23 months. Ms. King and the couple’s two daughters were among approximately 500 in attendance at his diaconal ordination. Deacon King is scheduled to be ordained a priest on May 26 at St. Francis de Sales Cathedral. Following his priestly ordination, he will have the potential to return to the Air Force as a Chaplain with full endorsement from the Archdiocese for the Military Services (AMS). Upon completion of his military career, he and his family will move permanently to the diocese of Houma-Thibodaux to continue his ministry.
Reverend Mister King is the first married transitional deacon and priest-candidate to go through the Seminarian Co-Sponsorship Program, a working partnership started several years ago between the AMS and other U.S. dioceses to support prospective Catholic military chaplains. Co-sponsorship means that a diocesan bishop (or religious superior) outside the AMS agrees to accept a young man 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 bishop (or religious superior) typically agrees to release him for service as a military chaplain after at least three years of pastoral experience as a priest in his diocese (or religious community). When the priest leaves military service, he returns to the diocese (or religious community) for further pastoral work. 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.
Father Kerry Abbott, OFM Conv., AMS Director of Vocations, said 35 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 three in 2008-09. Another eight are expected to enter the program in the fall.
The increase comes as an aging Catholic military chaplain corps suffers a growing need for reinforcements. Over the past decade, as more and more priest-chaplains have reached the military’s mandatory retirement age of 62, the number of those on active duty has dropped from more than 400 in 2001 to 257 today. While Catholics make up fully 25% of the U.S. armed forces, Catholic priests currently account for only 8% of military chaplains.
Fortunately, the military itself is proving to be fertile recruiting ground for priestly vocations. Last year, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University found in its annual survey of men entering the U.S. priesthood that 8% had previous military experience and 20% came from military families.
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. Reverend Mister Stu King is living proof that you don’t have to start out Catholic to answer the call, and under certain circumstances, it is possible for a married man to become a Catholic priest and serve as a Chaplain in the U.S. military.”
As the nation’s only archdiocese without geographical boundaries, the AMS endorses priests for on-site ministry at more than 350 locations throughout the country and around the world to Catholics and their families in the U.S. armed forces, VA Medical Centers and overseas civilian posts. Worldwide, an estimated 1.5 million Catholics depend on the AMS to serve their spiritual and sacramental needs.
For more information on the Archdiocese for the Military Services, visit https://www.milarch.org, the only official Web site for Catholics in the military and for the Cause of Father Vincent Capodanno, M.M.