WASHINGTON, D.C. – With the United States Military facing a desperate shortage of Catholic chaplains, the Military Council of Catholic Women (MCCW) is stepping up to make a difference. The MCCW has just donated $50,000 to establish an endowed scholarship for seminarians in formation for priesthood and military chaplaincy. The Archdiocese for the Military Services (AMS), USA, received the check on Thursday, April 25.
In a May 3 “thank you” letter to Ms. Elizabeth Tomlin of the MCCW, His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services, expressed his appreciation for the substantial donation. “You recognize first-hand the importance of priests for the military,” he wrote, “and you do so much to care for us and to work diligently in favor of the continued formation of Catholic women.… So often in visiting the Catholics entrusted to my pastoral care, I am blessed to meet the MCCW or to benefit from their interest. Now you have added another dimension to that activity…. Know that your intentions will be remembered at Holy Mass.”
The donation brings to 18 the total number of seminarian scholarships established through the AMS since 2014, raising nearly $2.2 million in self-sustaining support for AMS Vocations and the Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program, a vocations partnership set up more than 30 years ago between the Archdiocese and cooperating U.S. dioceses and religious communities, which supply priests for military service. The CSP has grown by leaps and bounds since 2008 when only seven men were enrolled in the program. Now, 48 co-sponsored seminarians from 35 dioceses are studying in 21 seminaries to become chaplains.
Under the CSP, the home diocese or religious community of each co-sponsored seminarian shares with the AMS the cost of the seminarian’s five year formation, each paying 50% of tuition, room and board, and other expenses. Once the priest is ordained, he typically serves for three years in his home diocese or community before his bishop or religious superior releases him for full-time military service. When the priest leaves the military, he returns to the diocese or community for further pastoral work. So both the AMS and the partner diocese or community benefit from his vocation.
This year, through the CSP, five new priests will be ordained—as will nine transitional deacons on track to become priests next year—all hoping to become military chaplains after the initial period of home diocesan pastoral service. Five priests from the program will also begin active-duty service this year.
The AMS shoulders an average cost per seminarian of $20,000 a year. That amounts to $100,000 per seminarian over the course of his five-year formation. At the current rate, the AMS will incur nearly $5 million in seminary and priestly formational expenses over the next five years alone.
The AMS receives no funding from the military or the government. Ms. Mary Lavin, Executive Director of Major Gifts and Planned Giving, says the generous gift from the MCCW, and the generosity of all who have established a named and endowed scholarship, will continue to help the AMS “meet its immediate and increasing costs for the Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program while building a crucial and self-sustaining source of funding for years to come.”
The investment is critical to the mission of the U.S. Military chaplain corps, which is coping with a dwindling supply of Catholic priests going back decades. The chronic, growing shortage comes as aging Catholic chaplains reach retirement faster than they can be replaced. Just since 9/11, the active-duty roster has shrunk from more than 400 to fewer than 200. Currently, 25% of the Military is Catholic, but Catholic priests make up barely six percent of the active-duty chaplain corps, leaving these priests stretched thin over a globally dispersed faith community on a scale of approximately one priest per 1,800 Catholic active-duty service members, not counting their families.
Meanwhile, the military itself, with its emphasis on discipline and service, stands out as a major source of U.S Catholic priests. Year in and year out, an annual church survey of new American priests finds anywhere from four to ten percent of the newly ordained previously served in the military, and as many as one in five comes from a military family. The 2019 Survey of Ordinands to the Priesthood, conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University, finds that of the 379 respondents, five percent served in the military, and 17% have at least one parent who served. Among those reporting prior military experience, about a third (32%) served in the Army. A quarter each served in the Air Force (26%) or in the Marines (26%). In actuality, those numbers are certainly greater, because only 79% of the new ordinands responded to the survey.
The AMS Office of Vocations, under Director Father Aidan Logan, O.C.S.O., continues to extend God’s invitation for young men to become priests and chaplains, focusing heavily on those now serving in the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard, whose rigorous training make them suitable candidates. Those efforts continue to pay off. An additional 17 men, six of whom are currently serving on active duty in non-chaplain roles, are now in various stages of processing to enter the CSP and become chaplains.
Anyone wishing to establish a named and endowed scholarship may contact Ms. Mary Lavin at firstname.lastname@example.org or (440) 223-6482. Anyone wishing to make a donation to the AMS and its Vocations Program may do so at www.milarch.org/donate, or may contribute to the 2019 National Collection for the AMS. For details about the 2019 National Collection, visit www.milarch.org/nationalcollection.
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 email@example.com.