Priest Ordained in Hopes of Joining the United States Navy Chaplain Corps

Father William Appel is ordained to the priesthood in his home diocese of Covington, Ky.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A prospective new Catholic U.S. Navy chaplain was ordained a priest on Saturday, June 21, 2014—the Feast of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga—in his home diocese of Covington, Ky. Newly-ordained Father William Appel, 38, hopes eventually to serve as achaplain in the Navy with endorsement and faculties from theArchdiocese for the Military Services, USA (AMS).

Bishop Roger J. Foys of Covington ordained Father Appel at theCathedral Basilica of the Assumption through the laying of hands and the prayer of consecration invoking the Holy Spirit. AMS Auxiliary Bishop Neal J. Buckon represented His Excellency, the Most ReverendTimothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services, at the 10:00 a.m. (EDST) ordination Mass. Bishop Buckon concelebrated along with a number of other priests, including Msgr. Timothy Hogan, a retired U.S. Navy chaplain who Father Appel says helped influence his decision to answer God’s call to become a priest after the two met in 2007 at Camp Lejeune, N.C., where Father Appel was stationed as a U.S Marine Corps Huey helicopter pilot.

More than 200 friends and relatives of the new priest attended the ordination Mass, including his parents, Mr.Gerald and Mrs. Sheila Appel, five siblings, and numerous aunts, uncles and cousins. Many also attended Father Appel’s Solemn Mass of Thanksgiving—on Sunday, June 22, 2014, in Taylor Mill, Ky. at St. Patrick Catholic Shrine, whose pastor, Father Jeff Von Lehman, gave the homily.

Father Appel expressed great joy at crossing the finish line on his journey toward priesthood. He said:

“The priesthood is about service. Unlike the military, it’s more of a response to an invitation to serve than an independent decision or application. What a privilege to serve in this way! It’s worth the work to continue to respond to this call every day. There is much work to do! God, make me a faithful servant until I draw my dying breath!”

Father Appel, a native of Mariemont, Ohio, graduated from Dallas High School in Dallas, Pennsylvania and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Penn State University before spending eight years in theMarine Corps. He completed his priestly formation at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. A man of many talents, Father Appel enjoys team sports and CrossFit training as much as playing the piano and guitar.

The ordination of the prospective new Navy chaplain comes as a welcome development for Catholics in the Sea Services. TheNavy is the branch of service where a chronic shortage of Catholic military chaplains, due to growing attrition, is currently severest. Of the 835 active duty chaplains in the Navy’s Chaplain Corps, only 52—or six percent—are Catholic, compared to about eight percent of U.S. military chaplains as a whole. The AMS estimates that 123,000 Catholics serve on active duty in the Navy and Marine Corps; their families and dependents account for an additional 178,000 Catholics; and the U.S. Coast Guard has an additional 16,000 Catholics. Catholic priests in the Navy serve all these populations at a current ratio of only one chaplain per 7,000 faithful.

The chaplain shortage comes 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 throughout the U.S. military has fallen from more than 400 to 225.

Fortunately, help is on the way. Father Appel’s ordination comes as part of an upward trend in the number of men completing formation to become priests and military chaplains through the Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program, a partnership between the AMS and local dioceses and religious communities to support vocations. Thanks in large part to the support of U.S. bishops and religious superiors, along with increased awareness and discernment opportunities for prospective chaplains, the number of co-sponsored seminarians has risen from seven in
2008 to 31 today, and still more candidates are on the way. Father Appel is among eleven prospective chaplains to be ordained this year, either as priests or transitional deacons.

The AMS receives no funding from the government and depends entirely on private giving. The projected cost for the Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program is approximately $2.7 million over just the next five years. The AMS is one of only nine dioceses selected to participate in The Catholic Extension Society’s 2014 Seminarian Endowment Challenge. Qualifying gifts will be matched through December 31, 2014, up to $50,000. For more information about the Seminarian Endowment Challenge, or to make a donation in support of the mission and ministry of the AMS, go here.