MENLO PARK, CA — Eight men from three service branches of the United States Armed Forces and four civilians will gather here this weekend for a March 12-15 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 at St. Patrick’s Seminary. The prospective chaplain candidates include two from the Army; one from the Navy; five from the Air Force; and four civilians.
Sixteen men were originally scheduled to make the retreat, but the AMS cancelled travel arrangements for four who reside in Europe or Asia, including two marines, a soldier, and a civilian, following recommendations received regarding precautions to be taken against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), which continues to spread worldwide.
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 other priests, chaplains and active-duty recruiters, including: Father Thomas S. Foley, Ch, Capt, USAF; and Father Robbie Deka, Ch, Capt, USAF. Bishop Michael Barber, S.J., of Oakland, CA, will be the main speaker.
The spring retreat is one of two discernment retreats that the AMS holds annually in the United States, one on either side of the country. The eastern retreat will take place Oct. 15-18, 2020, at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, NY. Young men interested in attending the eastern retreat may contact Father Logan at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 719-3600.
The registration of sixteen participants for this year’s western retreat reflects a continuing trend of strong interest among young men considering priesthood and chaplaincy over the past few years. That is a great sign of encouragement for the AMS, which is working diligently to overcome a desperate shortage of Catholic priests serving on active duty. The shortage stems from 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 dwindled from more than 400 to approximately 200. Currently, 25% of the Military is Catholic, but Catholic priests make up only seven percent of the chaplain corps, leaving Catholic chaplains stretched thin over a globally dispersed faith community on a scale of approximately one priest per sixteen-hundred service members, not counting their families.
Church studies show the Military itself has become the strongest 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, anywhere from four to 10 percent of U.S. priests ordained year in and year out once served in the Armed Forces, and as many as twenty percent or more come from military families. Those numbers are almost certainly greater, because not all new priests respond to the annual survey.
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.” 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 in 2008 to 48 now. More are expected to enter the Program in the fall, and the AMS is processing applications of still others. Now, the AMS is struggling to pay for their tuition and other seminary expenses, with its share projected at nearly four million dollars 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.
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 email@example.com or (202) 719-3600.