NEW ORLEANS – Father Andrew Sanchez, (MAJ), USA, DDS, a prospective U.S. Army chaplain, was ordained a Catholic priest on Saturday, June 5, 2021, in New Orleans, LA. The former active-duty Army dentist plans to go back on active duty as a fulltime chaplain with endorsement and faculties from the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (AMS).
Father Sanchez, 35, completed priestly formation at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. His ordination was celebrated at St. Louis Cathedral through the laying on of hands and the prayer of consecration invoking the Holy Spirit by Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond. AMS Auxiliary Bishop Neal J. Buckon concelebrated the 10:00 a.m. ordination Mass. Among those in attendance were the new priest’s parents, Glenn and Denise Sanchez, his brother, Mr. Matthew Sanchez, and a sister, Ms. Alison Sanchez Compagno.
Father 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 in addition to a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Philosophy and a Master of Divinity from Notre Dame Seminary.
Father 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, the new priest served as a dentist in the Army Reserve and volunteered providing dental service to the poor.
Commenting on his ordination to the priesthood, Father Sanchez said, “Although words cannot fully express it, I feel truly blessed that God has chosen me to serve as a priest of Jesus Christ. It is deeply fulfilling to become what He has called me to be from before my birth.”
The new priest crosses the finish line 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 fewer than 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, 83 priests currently on active duty serve some 118,000 Catholic soldiers. That’s approximately one priest for every 1,325 Catholics spread worldwide, not counting their families, whom the priests also serve.
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 five percent of the Class of 2021 has prior military experience, and 11% comes from families where at least one parent served in the military, making the AMS the nation’s largest source of new priests. The actual numbers are certain to be higher, because only 73% of this year’s ordinands (346 out of 472) 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 consider joining the Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program, a vocations partnership between the AMS and cooperating dioceses and religious communities around the country. In the case of Father Sanchez, the partner diocese is the Archdiocese of New Orleans, a long-time supporter of the military chaplaincy. Under the co-sponsorship agreement, Father Sanchez will provide civilian pastoral service for three years in the New Orleans Archdiocese before going back on active duty in the Army. Upon completion of his Army service, he will return to New Orleans for further ministry.
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 such as Father Sanchez has risen from seven in 2008 to 36 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. To support the Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program, visit milarch.org/support-seminarians/. Gifts made through June 30 will be matched dollar for dollar up to a total of $25,000 by a retired military couple wishing to remain anonymous in their generosity.
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 milarch.org/vocations, or may contact the AMS Vocations Office at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 719-3600.