YONKERS, NY — Nineteen men 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 annual retreat Oct. 17-20 at St. Joseph’s Seminary. Among the prospective chaplain candidates are more than a dozen men already serving in the United States Military, including nine from the Navy, four from the Air Force, one from the Army, and one from the Marines. Four are currently civilians, three of whom are already in seminary and discerning the “vocation within a vocation” to serve in the armed forces.
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, including: Father Arkadiusz (Arek) Ochalek, CH (CPT), USA; Father David A. Daigle, CHC, LCDR, USN; and Father Thomas Foley, Ch, Capt, USAF.
This is one of two discernment retreats that the AMS holds annually in the United States, one on either side of the country. The 2018 eastern retreat took place Dec. 6-9 at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio. The 2019 western retreat took place Feb. 28-March 3 at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, CA. The 2020 western retreat will also take place at St. Patrick’s March 12-15. Young men interested in making the 2020 western retreat may contact Father Logan by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The strong participation in these retreats over the past few years 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 fewer than 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 approximately one priest per 1,800 Catholic service members on active duty, not counting their families.
Church studies show the Military itself is perhaps the largest source of U.S. priestly vocations. According to an annual Survey of Ordinands to the Priesthood, conducted by the Center for 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 once served in the armed forces, and up to 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” (CSP). The AMS established this vocations partnership with cooperating U.S. dioceses and religious communities in the 1980s to encourage military service commitments from candidates for priesthood. Enrollment has grown from seven in 2008 to a record high 47 this year. This year, five were ordained priests, another six went on active duty, and nine more were ordained transitional deacons in preparation to be ordained priests next year. So far, over the past ten years, at least fifteen priests who went through the CSP have gone on active duty, and others have begun service in the reserves.
Now, under the CSP agreements with its partner dioceses and religious communities, the AMS is struggling to pay its fifty percent share of the tuition and related seminary expenses for this fast growing number of prospective new chaplains. The AMS share of the bill is projected at more than $4 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 milarch.org/donate, or contribute to the Triennial National Collection or the AMS Appeal. For more information on the Triennial National Collection, visit milarch.org/nationalcollection. For more information on the AMS Appeal, visit milarch.org/amsappeal.
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 Father Logan by email at email@example.com.