LAFAYETTE, LA. – The Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (AMS), is celebrating the priestly ordination of a prospective U.S. Navy chaplain this past weekend. Father Rene Pellessier, 27, was ordained a priest on Saturday, June 10, in Lafayette, La. Father Pellessier hopes eventually to serve on active duty in the U.S. Navy with endorsement and faculties from the AMS.
Father Pellessier was ordained at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist through the laying of hands and the prayer of consecration invoking the Holy Spirit by the Most Reverend J. Douglas Deshotel, Bishop of Lafayette. His Excellency, the Most Revered Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services, USA, concelebrated the 10:00 a.m. Ordination Mass. The AMS Vocations Director, Father Aidan Logan, O.C.S.O., also concelebrated.
Father Pellessier said:
“Becoming a priest is an absolute dream come true. Starting seminary seven years ago, priesthood seemed like an impossibly distant goal. Yet that distance made being ordained
so satisfying. Because when the bishop laid hands on me, I saw God reward me for my seven years of hard work by making me a member of his Holy Priesthood.”
Father Pellessier found his calling in his third year enrolled at Louisiana State University (LSU) where he was studying mechanical engineering. He transferred to St. Joseph Seminary College in Saint Benedict, La., where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts with a concentration in Philosophy in 2013. He completed his priestly formation in May at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., where he earned a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts degree in Theology.
Father Pellessier celebrated his first Mass on Sunday at St. Mary Mother of the Church Parish in Lafayette. He hopes to go on active duty as a U.S. Navy Chaplain following three years of pastoral service in the Diocese of Lafayette.
The new priest is the son of Stephen and Beth Pellessier of Lafayette. He has two brothers: Mr. Doug Pellessier and Rev. Mr. Stephen Pellessier, a transitional deacon, who is also in priestly formation at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. All attended the ordination Mass.
The new priest’s prospective military service, along with that of other prospective new Catholic chaplains, comes at a crucial time. The Navy and all other branches of the U.S. Armed Forces continue to suffer a chronic shortage of chaplains as more and more priests reach mandatory military retirement faster than they can be replaced. Since 9/11, the number of active-duty chaplains has fallen from more than 400 to approximately 207. While Catholics make up about 25% of the U.S. armed forces, Catholic priests currently account for only 8% of military chaplains.
At the same time, the military itself continues to be a rich source of vocations. Year in and year out, anywhere from four to ten percent of young men entering the priesthood in the U.S. once served in the U.S. Military, and as many as 20% come from military families, according to an annual survey conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University. The AMS, confident that those numbers would likely grow if only more priests were sent into the Military to gather the harvest, is now busy tapping this source for prospective new chaplains. The Vocations Office is focusing attention on active-duty servicemen expressing an interest in the priesthood, inviting more qualified candidates to join the Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program, a vocations partnership between the AMS and cooperating dioceses and religious communities around the country.
Thanks in large part to the support of U.S. bishops and religious superiors, along with increased awareness and discernment opportunities, the number of co-sponsored seminarians has risen from seven in 2008 to 39 today. They come from 25 U.S. dioceses and one religious congregation and are enrolled in 18 seminaries nationwide.
This year, two of the co-sponsored—Father Pellessier of the Diocese of Lafayette, La., and Father Samuel Schneider of the Diocese of Superior, Wis.—have been ordained priests, and two seminarians—Rev. Mr. Jay Horning of the Diocese of Fort Wayne, Ind., and Rev. Mr. Michael Metz of the Archdiocese of Atlanta—have been ordained transitional deacons. Another 10 priests, now in reserve status, are set to phase into active duty over the next three years. Meanwhile, another seven men are scheduled to enter the Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program by the fall, and the AMS Office of Vocations is currently processing the applications of still others.
The AMS, which receives no funding from the government and depends entirely on private giving, is now looking for ways to fund a fast-rising seminary bill, now projected at $2.9 million over the next five years. Donations can be made 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 atwww.milarch.org/vocations, or may contact the Vocations Director, Father Aidan Logan, O.C.S.O., by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.