NEW ORLEANS – The Reverend Mr. Andrew Sanchez, DDS, a candidate for the Catholic priesthood and United States Military chaplaincy, was ordained a transitional deacon on Saturday, May 16, in New Orleans, LA. He hopes eventually to serve as a Catholic chaplain in the U.S. Army with endorsement and faculties from the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (AMS).
Deacon Sanchez, 34, is currently in priestly formation at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. His diaconal ordination was celebrated at a 10:00 a.m. Mass at St. Louis Cathedral through the laying on of hands and the prayer of consecration invoking the Holy Spirit by Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans. His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, JCD, Archbishop for the Military Services, concelebrated the ordination Mass.
The new deacon’s parents, Glen and Denise Sanchez were among those in the small congregation. Attendance was limited due to concern over spread of the coronavirus. The pandemic has been particularly severe in New Orleans.
The Rev. Mr. Sanchez is a 2003 graduate of Brother Martin Catholic High School in New Orleans and a 2007 graduate of Louisiana State University (LSU). He holds a Doctorate of Dental Surgery (DDS) from LSU School of Dentistry and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Philosophy from Notre Dame Seminary.
The Rev. Mr. Sanchez is no stranger to the Army. Before entering seminary, he served four years on active duty as an Army dentist, including one year at Fort Campbell in Kentucky where he received advanced education in General Dentistry; two years at Fort Wainwright in Alaska, where he served as a brigade dentist for the First Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division; and one year at Fort Polk in Louisiana, where he served as a Dental Activity (DENTAC) specialist. While in formation to become a priest, the new deacon has served as a dentist in the Army Reserve and volunteered providing dental service to the poor.
The Rev. Mr. Sanchez says he was inspired to pursue a priestly vocation through his Army service. He said:
“While God has always been calling me to consider serving as a priest for His Church, this call was not evident to me until I was in Fairbanks, Alaska, with the U.S. Army. Being four-thousand miles away from home forced me to assess my relationship with Christ and the Church, and as a result I grew closer to Christ and lived my life more fully according to Catholic teaching than any other time in my life.
“At the same time, I grew close to a beautiful, loving, and caring young lady. However, as she and I began to discern marriage it slowly became evident to me that God was instead calling me to seminary to discern more thoroughly a life dedicated to Him as a priest.
“Seminary formation went by fast and it’s hard to believe I am being ordained a cleric already, but I feel humbled, blessed, and ready to serve God and his people as a deacon.”
The new deacon, who is scheduled to be ordained a priest next year, reaches this penultimate milestone in his formational journey at a critical time for the exercise of Catholic faith in the Army. Like other branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, the Army continues to suffer a chronic shortage of Catholic chaplains due to attrition: priests are reaching mandatory military retirement faster than they can be replaced. Since 9/11, the number of active-duty U.S. Military chaplains in all branches of service has fallen from more than 400 to approximately 200. While Catholics make up about 25% of the U.S. Armed Forces, Catholic priests currently account for only about seven percent of military chaplains.
In the Army, 89 priests currently on active duty serve some 118,000 Catholic soldiers. That’s approximately one priest for every 1,325 Catholics spread thin across bases worldwide, not counting their families.
At the same time, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), the military itself continues to be a rich source of vocations in the U.S. CARA’s annual Survey of Ordinands to the Priesthood found that six percent of the Class of 2020 has prior military experience, and 13% come from families where at least one parent served in the military. The actual numbers are certain to be higher, because only 77% of this year’s ordinands responded to the survey.
The AMS is now busy tapping this source for prospective chaplains. The Vocations Office is focusing attention on active-duty servicemen expressing an interest in the priesthood, inviting more qualified candidates to join the Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program, a vocations partnership between the AMS and cooperating dioceses and religious communities around the country.
Thanks in large part to the support of U.S. bishops and religious superiors, along with increased awareness and discernment opportunities, the number of co-sponsored seminarians has risen from seven in 2008 to 48 today.
The AMS, which receives no funding from the government and depends entirely on private giving, is now looking for ways to fund a fast-rising seminary bill, now projected at more than $5 million over the next five years. Donations can be made at www.milarch.org/donate.
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 at www.milarch.org/vocations, or may contact the Vocations Director, Father Aidan Logan, OCSO, by email at email@example.com or by telephone at (202) 719-3600.