Rev. Mr. Philip O’Neill reaches milestone in formational journey toward priesthood
BLOOMFIELD, CONN. – The Reverend Mr. Philip O’Neill, a candidate for the Catholic priesthood and United States military chaplaincy, was ordained a transitional Deacon on Saturday, Dec. 12, in Bloomfield, Conn. He hopes eventually to serve as a Catholic chaplain in the United States Air Force with endorsement and faculties from theArchdiocese for the MilitaryServices, USA (AMS).
Rev. Mr. O’Neill, 25, is undergoing priestly formation at Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md. His diaconal ordination was celebrated at Saint Thomas Seminary through the laying of hands and the prayer of consecration invoking the Holy Spirit by His Excellency, the Most Reverend Leonard P. Blair, Archbishop of Hartford. His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services, concelebrated the 11:00 a.m. ordination Mass.
Rev. Mr. O’Neill, the son of Mr. Damian and Mrs. Lisa O’Neill of Okinawa, Japan, is the oldest of the couple’s four children. His mother and two sisters, Ms. Rachel O’Neill of Malverne, N.Y., and Ms. Sarah O’Neill of Front Royal, Va., attended the diaconal ordination. His father and younger brother, James, were not able to make the long trip from Japan, but plan to attend the transitional deacon’s priestly ordination in May.
Rev. Mr. O’Neill is a 2012 graduate of Christendom College in Front Royal, Va., where he earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Philosophy. He says he first thought about becoming a priest while attending Vicenza American High School in Italy, where his father was stationed as a project manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and he graduated in 2008. “I started thinking about a vocation in 11th grade,” he says, “then again and more seriously my junior year of college. After the intensity of it in college, I decided to actively pursue it.” The new deacon says he was inspired by his experiences with the sacraments, “especially in Mass and before the Blessed Sacrament.”
Rev. Mr. O’Neill hopes to go on active duty as a U.S. Air Force Chaplain following three years of pastoral service in his home Archdiocese of Hartford. “God is so good,” he says. “It’s hard for me to believe that I’ve been ordained a deacon. I have been looking forward to this moment for a long time and now I just hope God continues to bless me and gives me the strength I need to serve Him well!”
The new deacon’s prospective military service, along with that of other priests and seminarians now considering the “vocation within a vocation” to serve those who serve, holds out the promise of relief for a chronic shortage of Catholic chaplains in the U.S. armed forces. The shortage is growing as more and more priests reach the military’s mandatory retirement age of 62 faster than they can be replaced. Since 9/11, the number of active-duty chaplains has fallen from more than 400 to 217. While Catholics make up about 25% of the U.S. Military, Catholic priests now account for only 8% of military chaplains.
In remarks to the General Assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops last month in Baltimore, Archbishop Broglio said the need for Catholic military chaplains has become “desperate.” He urged his brother bishops to release more priests to serve on active duty, saying it is “imperative that every diocese have at least one priest to ensure that your faithful who defend our religious freedom do not have to sacrifice theirs.”
Archbishop Broglio pointed out that U.S. dioceses and religious communities stand to gain a big return on any investment of priestly manpower in the military, because the military has proven to be one of the greatest sources of new American vocations. According to an annual survey conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, the number of U.S. Military veterans being ordained priests this year nearly doubled from each of the past two years. But Archbishop Broglio warned, “I am not sure that the AMS can sustain those percentages if there are no priests among the military population. As we all know too well, contact, good role models, and familiarity with the sacerdotal ministry are essential elements to promoting vocations.”
Meanwhile, any serviceman who hears God’s call can find a support network in the Washington, D.C.-based AMS. TheVocations Office is working with other dioceses and religious orders, through a vocations partnership called the Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program, to guide active-duty servicemen and others expressing an interest in the priesthood. Thanks in large part to the backing 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 27 today. They come from 22 U.S. dioceses and are enrolled in 15 seminaries nationwide and the North American College in Rome. This year, five of those seminarians were ordained priests and three priests went on active duty. Another 13 priests, now in reserve status, are set to phase into active duty over the next three years. Meanwhile, another ten men are scheduled to enter the Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program in the fall, and the AMS Vocations Office is currently processing the applications of still others.
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 $2.9 million over the next five years. Donations can be made atwww.milarch.org.
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 Father Aidan Logan, O.C.S.O., by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.