HARTFORD, CONN. – Father Philip O’Neill, a candidate for United States military chaplaincy, was ordained a Catholic priest on Saturday, May 21, in Hartford, Conn. He hopes eventually to serve as a Catholic chaplain in the United States Air Force with endorsement and faculties from the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (AMS).
Father O’Neill, 25, underwent priestly formation at Mount Saint Mary’sSeminary in Emmitsburg, Md., where he received his Master of Divinity degree on May 6. His priestly ordination was celebrated at the Cathedral of St. Joseph through the laying of hands and the prayer of consecration invoking the Holy Spirit by His Excellency, the Most Reverend Leonard P. Blair, S.T.D., Archbishop of Hartford.
Father 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 father, brother James, and two sisters, Ms. Rachel O’Neill of Malverne, N.Y., and Ms. Sarah O’Neill of Front Royal, Va., attended the priestly ordination, along with his grandmother, Ms. Elizabeth O’Neill of Brewster, Mass., along with a proud gathering of aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends.Father 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 pursue it actively.” The new priest says he was inspired by his experiences with the sacraments, “especially in Mass and before theBlessed Sacrament.”
The new priest’s eventual military service, along with that of other prospective new Catholic chaplains, holds out the promise of relief for a chronic shortage in the U.S. Military. 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 214. While Catholics make up about 25% of the U.S. armed forces, Catholic priests now account for only 8% of military chaplains.
In remarks to the Fall General Assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in November in Baltimore, His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services, 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.”
The AMS continues to target this rich source of vocations for prospective chaplains. The Vocations Office is working with other dioceses and religious orders through a vocations partnership called the Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program to support active-duty servicemen expressing an interest in the priesthood. 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 29 today. They come from 26 U.S. dioceses and are enrolled in 19 seminaries nationwide.
This year, three of those seminarians will ordained priests and two will be ordained deacons, and at least one priest will go on active duty. Another 10 priests, now in reserve status, are set to phase into active duty over the next two years. Meanwhile, another nine men are scheduled to enter the Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program in the fall, and the AMS Office of Vocations 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 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 AMS Vocations Director, Father Aidan Logan, O.C.S.O., by email at milarch.org/vocations.