BALTIMORE — Twenty-six men discerning possible vocations as Catholic priests and U.S. Military chaplains came together in Baltimore over the weekend of Sept. 29-Oct. 2 for a discernment retreat aimed at helping them hear God’s call. The Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (AMS), held the four-day retreat at St. Mary’s Seminary under the direction of the Vocations Office. Among the retreatants were three cadets from the U.S. Military Academy West Point and one from the Army’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) , a Marine, six sailors, five midshipmen, two airmen and eight civilians. AMS Vocations Director Father S. Matthew Gray directed the retreat. His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services, participated and celebrated Holy Mass twice for those gathered.
The strong turnout is a great sign of encouragement to the AMS, which is working diligently to overcome a growing shortage of Catholic priests serving as U.S. Military chaplains. The shortage is due to attrition: aging chaplains are reaching the military’s mandatory retirement age faster than they can be replaced. Over the past two decades, the roster of Catholic priests on active duty has shrunk from more than 400 to fewer than 185. Currently, 25% of the U.S. military is Catholic, but Catholic priests make up only about 7% of the chaplain corps.
To fill this shortage, the AMS Office of Vocations, in cooperation with local bishops and religious communities, is inviting more and more young men—particularly those already serving in the military—to discern if they are called. This outreach is yielding a bountiful harvest. The number of seminarians enrolled in the “Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program,” created in the 1980s to support military chaplain vocations through partner dioceses, has risen from seven (7) in 2008 to 40 this year. More are expected to enter the program next year, and the AMS is processing applications of still others.
Church studies show the military itself is the largest single source of U.S. Catholic priestly vocations. An annual Survey of Ordinands to the Priesthood, conducted by the Center of Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University found five percent of priests ordained in the U.S. in 2022 once served, and eleven percent have military family backgrounds. That confirms the trend illustrated for the last several years.
The AMS annually conducts two discernment retreats for young men considering the priesthood and military chaplaincy—one in the eastern U.S., and one on the western side of the country. The western retreat will be held Feb. 16-19 at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, CA. 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 milarch.org/vocations, or may contact Father Gray at (202) 719-3600 or email@example.com.