WASHINGTON, D.C.— In my Navy career I was frequently asked by people back home in Chicago what they could do to help our servicemen and women. The usual answer was cookies and rosaries. I now have a third answer, recruiting.
Throughout the history of the U.S. military, the Church’s mission has been to bring priests on active duty. Over the course of 200 plus years, thousands of diocesan and religious order priests have proudly served our Nation in uniform. Today there are fewer priests available to fill the needs of the uniformed services. Age and physical requirements dramatically limit the pool of potential active duty chaplains. But the needs of the Catholics in the military and their families remain just as strong as in the past. As a priest wrote in a recent email, his sacramental help is being requested by a number of ships facing deployments without their own priest. Based on Catholic needs, he could easily find himself deployed for the rest of his career as a chaplain.
Contract priests are taking the place of the traditional active duty priests in CONUS (continental United States) and OCONUS (overseas) installations. Who are these priests? In many cases, they are retired military chaplains. In other cases, they are civilian priests who for a number of reasons are not able to serve in the military but still feel called to help the Catholics in uniform. The number of requests for contract priests is growing year by year.
The Archdiocese for the Military Services (AMS) has a very robust Vocation program reaching out to those priests and seminarians interested in active duty ministry. The current contract priest challenge requires a new recruiting approach. Ways have to be found to reach out to potential contract priests as well. The word has to get out to bishops, religious superiors and priests that contracting is a way to serve without committing to a twenty year military career and without having to meet the rigorous age and physical requirements for active duty service.
In addition, the AMS is looking into ways to get the word out that contracts are available. The normal federal government process for advertising contract positions is the website Federal Business Opportunities.Government (fedbizopps.gov). This is not exactly daily reading material for a busy parish priest. Contracts are advertised by the government for a brief period and need to be acted on by a strict deadline. Many contracts are not awarded because priests do not know they are available. That means an installation goes without a priest.
The AMS website is beginning to advertise available contracts, but this is not reaching most of the civilian priest population. This is where you come in. You have this (issue of Salute) article in your hand. That makes you an AMS contract priest recruiter. Tell a civilian priest you know about contracting needs and show him where to look for contracts being offered, both the AMS website and fedbizopps.gov. I urge you to encourage priests you know to go to the websites and find out about the need for contract priests. They can contact either me, Father Jim Joslyn, or Father John L. Kaul at 202 719 3600 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Together we can meet the needs of our Catholic service men and women and their families.