Ten Men Gather for Discernment Retreat on Possible Vocations as U.S. Military Chaplains East Coast gathering a part of ongoing effort to relieve growing shortage of Catholic chaplains in the Armed Forces

The Pontifical College Josephinum in Ohio.

COLUMBUS, OHIO—Ten 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 Dec. 6-9 at the Pontifical College Josephinum. Among the prospective  candidates are more than a half-dozen men already serving in the United States Military, including four from the Army; two from the Navy; and two from the Air Force. Two of the prospective chaplains are currently civilians.

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 S. Foley, Ch, Capt, USAF. The main speaker will be Bishop Michael C. Barber, S.J., of Oakland, CA.

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 western retreat took place March 15-18 at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, CA. The 2019 western retreat will take place February 28-March 3, also at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park.

These moments of prayer such as the one in Columbus offer 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 has become perhaps the largest source of U.S. priestly vocations in recent years. According to an annual Survey of Ordinands to the Priesthood, conducted by the Center of 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 in the U.S. 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, three were ordained priests, five were ordained transitional deacons, and two went on active duty. Next year, five more will be ordained priests, nine more will be ordained transitional deacons, and three more are expected to go on active duty. So far, over the past ten years, at least ten priests who went through the CSP have gone on active duty, one is now serving in the Army Reserve, and another, in the Air Force Reserve.

Now, under the CSP agreements with its partner dioceses and religious communities, the AMS is struggling to pay half the tuition and related seminary expenses for these prospective new chaplains. Their home dioceses or religious communities will pay the other half. 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 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 vocations@milarch.org.