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Twenty-Nine Men Gather for Discernment Retreat on Possible Vocations as U.S. Military Chaplains

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Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio with participants in the Spring 2017 Discernment Retreat for young men considering a vocation to the Catholic priesthood and military chaplaincy (Courtesy Photo)
Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio with participants in the Spring 2017 Discernment Retreat for young men considering a vocation to the Catholic priesthood and military chaplaincy (Courtesy Photo)

West Coast gathering a part of ongoing effort to fill growing shortage of Catholic chaplains in the Armed Forces

MENLO PARK, CALIFORNIA— Twenty-nine men from three service branches of the United States Armed Forces will gather here this weekend for a March 15-18 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; six from the Navy; thirteen from the Air Force; and eight 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 chaplain recruiters from the U.S. Military: Father Jerzy (George) Rzasowski, CH (LTC), USA; Father Hermes (Andy) Losbañes, CH (MAJ), USA; Father David A. Daigle, CHC, LCDR, USN; and Father Thomas Foley, Ch Capt USAF. Father John Kinney, Ch Lt Col USAF (Ret.), will serve as retreat master.

This 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 Dec. 6-9, 2018, at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio. Young men interested in attending the eastern retreat may contact Father Logan at vocations@milarch.org or (202) 719-3600.

The registration of twenty-nine participants for this retreat reflects a trend of strong turnouts 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 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 205. Currently, 25% of the Military is Catholic, but Catholic priests make up only 6% of the chaplain corps, leaving them stretched thin over a globally dispersed faith community on a scale of only one priest per 1300 service members, not counting their families.

Church studies show the Military itself has become one of the largest sources of U.S. priestly vocations in recent years. 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 4 to 10 percent of U.S. priests ordained year in and year out once served in the Armed Forces, and as many as 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.” 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 this year. 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 $3 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.

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 or (202) 719-3600.

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