WASHINGTON, DC — Thirteen men from many service branches of the United States Armed Forces will gather here this weekend for a June 24-27 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 holding the semi-annual retreat at Theological College, the national seminary of the Catholic University of America. The prospective chaplain candidates include three now serving in the Army, two in the Marine Corps, one in the Navy, two in the Air Force, and five civilians.
Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio and other AMS priests 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 chaplain recruiters including Father Adam Muda, CH (CPT), USA; Father Daniel Fullerton, CHC, LCDR, USN; and Father Robbie Deka, Ch, Capt, USAF. Father Michael Isenberg, Director of Vocations for the Diocese of Arlington, will give a special presentation.
This retreat is one of two annual discernment retreats the AMS usually holds in the United States, one on either side of the country. Last year, though, only one was held due to the COVID-19 shutdown. This weekend will be the first time in more than a year that Archbishop Broglio and Father Logan will be able to meet with prospective priests and military chaplains in a retreat setting. A second discernment retreat will be held Oct. 21-24 this year at Mount St. Mary’s of the West Seminary in Cincinnati, OH. Young men interested in participating may contact the AMS Vocations Office at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 719-3600.
The resumption of regularly scheduled discernment retreats is a welcome step forward for the AMS, which is working diligently to overcome a desperate shortage of Catholic priests serving as active-duty U.S. Military chaplains. The shortage comes as a result of attrition: aging chaplains are retiring faster than they can be replaced. The decline has been going on for decades. Just since the time of 9/11, the active-duty roster has shrunk from more than 400 to 185. Currently, 25% of the Military is Catholic, but Catholic priests make up only about six percent of the chaplain corps, leaving them stretched thin over a globally dispersed faith community on a scale of only one priest per 1800 service members, not counting their families.
Church studies show the Military itself has become the largest single source of U.S. priestly vocations. According to an annual Survey of Ordinands to the Priesthood by the Center of Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University, five percent of new priests ordained in the U.S. this year once served in the Armed Forces, and 11% percent come from military families.
The AMS continues to tap this source for prospective chaplains. The Vocations Office 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.” The AMS established this vocations partnership with cooperating U.S. dioceses in the 1980s to encourage military service commitments from candidates for priesthood. Enrollment has grown from seven (7) in 2008 to an all-time high of forty-seven before the pandemic, producing more than 20 new ordinations this year alone, clearing the way for new priests to go on active duty following a three-year commitment of pastoral service in their home dioceses or religious communities. More are expected to enter the Program in the fall, and the AMS is processing applications of still others.
Meanwhile, the AMS is struggling to pay for their tuition and other seminary expenses, with its share projected at more than five million dollars over the next five years alone. The AMS receives no funding from the military or the government and gratefully welcomes donations 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 at www.milarch.org/vocations, or may contact the AMS Vocations Office at email@example.com or (202) 719-3600.