WASHINGTON, DC — As the United States Military energetically seeks more Catholic priests to serve as active-duty chaplains in all branches, the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (AMS), has chosen a more powerful approach by invoking divine intervention through prayer. Beginning Wednesday, July 27, and continuing through Thursday, Aug. 4, Vocations Director Father S. Matthew Gray will lead the faithful in an online novena. The term “novena” comes from the Latin word for “nine”—“novem.” A novena is series of prayers for special petitions, said for nine consecutive days. While novenas may be offered to any one of a number of saints, this one will implore the intercession of Saint John Vianney (1786-1859), the patron saint of parish priests. The timing coincides with the three-year Eucharistic Revival, an initiative approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) last November to rekindle awareness of the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. The Eucharistic Revival, which began on June 19, the Feast of Corpus Christi, will culminate in 2024 with a National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis, IN.
The faithful are invited to participate in the Eucharistic Revival Novena to Saint John Vianney on the AMS’s website at milarch.org/novena/. A video of Father Gray leading the prayer along with a prayer booklet will be available on site. There is no set time for participation each day. Participants may access the page and take part at their convenience. Each day, Father Gray will lead that day’s prayer as follows:
- Sing the hymn of exposition, O Salutaris Hostia.
- Read the Gospel passage of the day.
- Read the daily prayer.
- Recite the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be.
- Recite the Litany of Saint John Vianney.
- Sing the hymn of Benediction, Tantum Ergo Sacramentum.
- Recite the closing prayers and the Divine Praises.
The Eucharistic Revival Novena to Saint John Vianney comes as part of the AMS’s ongoing effort to fill a desperate shortage of Catholic priests on active duty. The shortage results from attrition: aging chaplains are retiring faster than they can be replaced. The decline has persisted for decades—over the past 20 years alone, 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 one priest per 1800 service members, not counting their families.
Paradoxically, 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, typically finds year in and year out, upwards of ten percent of new U.S. priests once served in the armed forces and as many as twenty percent or more come from military families. This year’s survey found five percent of priests ordained in the U.S. in 2022 once served, and eleven percent have military family backgrounds.
The AMS has thus intensified its outreach to this rich source of prospective chaplains. The Vocations Office is focusing attention on active-duty servicemen expressing an interest in the priesthood, inviting more of them to attend either of two discernment retreats the archdiocese holds annually. Over the past few years, this outreach has begun to yield a bountiful harvest, with a growing number of young men answering “yes” to God’s call through the Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program (CSP). Enrollment has grown from seven in 2008 to an all-time high of 47 before the pandemic, producing a dozen new ordinations this year alone. Currently, 37 men are enrolled in the program, preparing for priestly ordination and military chaplaincy in hopes of relieving the shortage.
Shortly after the erection of the AMS in 1985, the CSP was established as a contract between the AMS and cooperating dioceses and religious communities to encourage military service commitments from candidates for priesthood. Co-sponsorship means that a diocese or religious superior agrees to allow a seminarian to commit to eventual service as a U.S. Military chaplain. The seminarian will participate in the chaplain candidacy program of one of the military branches. The AMS and the seminarian’s home diocese or religious community split the cost of his five-year, approximate $50,000-per-year formation, each paying half of tuition, room and board, and other expenses, or about $25,000 a year per co-sponsored seminarian. Once the seminarian is ordained a priest, he will work in his home diocese or religious community for three years before going on active duty. Once he completes his military service, he will return to his home diocese or religious community to serve out his vocation.
For the AMS and those she serves, the increase in co-sponsored seminarians is a mixed blessing. While more prospective Catholic U.S. Military chaplains are in the pipeline now, the costs for their formation have soared exponentially. The AMS’s share is projected at approximately $5 million over the next five years alone. The AMS receives no funding from the military or the government and gratefully welcomes donations at 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 milarch.org/vocations, or may contact the AMS Vocations Office at email@example.com or (202) 719-3600. Additionally, discerners are encouraged to take part in the Melchizedek Project. While not directly associated with the AMS, it is an online discernment group for men who love Jesus Christ and His Church, and who are willing to talk with other like-minded men in a series of zoom conferences about their future. The first meeting of the Fall 2022 series is Thursday, August 19, at 7:00 p.m. EDT. Register here.
Meanwhile, the faithful are encouraged to join Father Gray in the Jul 25-Aug. 4 Eucharistic Revival Novena to Saint John Vianney, and to pray, continually, the AMS Prayer for Vocations:
Continue to send more holy men to discern the priesthood and military chaplaincy as Co-Sponsored seminarians. Grant those discerning both courage and steadfast faith so that they may respond faithfully to your will for them.
We ask this through Christ our Lord, Amen.