YONKERS, NEW YORK—As the Catholic Church celebrates National Vocation Awareness Week Nov. 5-11 in the United States, fourteen men from many service branches of the U.S. Armed Forces will gather here this weekend for a discernment retreat aimed at helping them determine if they are called by the Holy Spirit to be Catholic priests and military chaplains. The Vocations Office of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (AMS), is conducting the retreat Nov. 9-12 at St. Joseph’s Seminary. Among the prospective chaplain candidates are more than a half-dozen men already serving in the Military, including three from the Army; five from the Navy; and one from the Air Force. Five of the prospective chaplains are currently civilians.
Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio will take part in the four days of prayer, reflection, and talks, along with Vocations Director Father Aidan Logan, O.C.S.O., and active-duty chaplains and recruiters currently assigned to the Army, Navy, and Air Force, including: Father Jerzy (George) Rzasowski, CH (LTC), USA; Father Hermes (Andy) Losbanes, CH (MAJ), USA; Father David A. Daigle, CHC, LCDR, USN; and Father Thomas Foley, Ch, Capt, USAF. The main speaker will be Father John Kinney, Ch, Lt, USAF (Ret.).
This is one of two discernment retreats that the AMS holds annually in the United States, one on either side of the country. The 2017 western retreat took place March 23-26 at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, CA. The 2018 western retreat will take place March 15-18, also at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park.
The registration of fourteen participants in Yonkers reflects a trend of strong turnouts over the past few years. That is a great sign of encouragement for the AMS, which is working diligently to overcome a desperate shortage of Catholic priests serving as active-duty chaplains. The shortage comes as aging chaplains reach retirement faster than they can be replaced. Since the time of 9/11, the active-duty roster has shriveled from more than 400 to 200. Currently, 25% of the Military is Catholic, but Catholic priests make up barely 6% of the active-duty chaplain corps, leaving these priests stretched thin over a globally dispersed faith community on a scale of one priest per 1,600 Catholic service members, not counting their families.
Church studies show the Military itself has become perhaps the largest source of U.S. priestly vocations in recent years. According to an annual survey of the newly ordained to the priesthood, conducted by the Center of Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University, anywhere from four to ten percent of U.S. priests ordained year in and year out in the U.S. once served in the Armed Forces, and as many as 20 percent come from military families.
The AMS continues to tap this source for prospective chaplains. The Vocations staff is focusing attention on active-duty servicemen expressing an interest in the priesthood, inviting more of them to attend one of the discernment retreats. Over the past few years, this outreach has begun to yield a bountiful harvest, with an increasing number of young men answering “yes” to God’s call through the “Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program.” The AMS established this vocations partnership with cooperating U.S. dioceses in the 1980s to encourage military service commitments from candidates for priesthood. Enrollment has grown from seven in 2008 to forty-three this year. Next year, two will be ordained priests, and four will go on active duty. More are expected to enter the Program in the fall, and the AMS is processing applications of still others.
Now, under the co-sponsorship agreements, the AMS is struggling to pay half the tuition and related seminary expenses for these prospective new chaplains. Their home dioceses or religious communities will pay the other half. The AMS share of the bill is projected at nearly $3 million over the next five years alone.
The AMS receives no funding from the military or the government. Anyone wishing to make a donation may do so 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 Father Logan by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.