While nearly 25 percent of the men and women who serve in our Armed Forces identify as being Roman Catholic, fewer than seven percent of the active-duty Chaplain Corps are Catholic priests.
CHAPLAIN CAPT. JOSEPH HOANG, USAF (RIGHT), MINISTERS TO AIRMEN AT MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. COURTESY PHOTO
With fewer than 200 active-duty Catholic priests responsible for the sacramental needs of nearly 1 million Catholic servicemembers and their families worldwide, chaplains minister wherever forces serve, both home and abroad, and are responsible for attending to the spiritual, moral and ethical needs of all servicemembers.
“Catholic chaplains are responsible for Catholics and non-Catholics, Christians and non-Christians, and believers and even non-believers,” said Father Kevin Sweeney.
Navy Captain Kevin Sweeney, USN (Ret.) is a priest of the Diocese of Orange. He served as a Navy chaplain for 24 years before retiring from active duty and being appointed as pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Huntington Beach by Bishop Kevin Vann in 2021.
CHAPLAIN CAPT. KEVIN SWEENEY (LEFT), SALUTES AS HE IS PIPED ASHORE DURING HIS RETIREMENT CEREMONY AT CAMP PENDLETON, CALIF. COURTESY PHOTO
Chaplain Sweeney and other Catholic priests like him, have been granted permission by their local bishops to minister to the men and women of the six branches of the Armed Forces: the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and Space Force.
Catholic chaplains are commissioned officers in the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy (who serve sailors as well as marines and coast guardsmen).
They serve not only the Active Duty, but the Reserve forces, the National Guard and at the four federal military academies as well as patients at Veterans Administration (VA) medical centers and civilians working for the federal government. In total, over 1.8 million Catholics worldwide are dependent upon the AMS to meet their spiritual and sacramental needs.
These Catholic chaplains are part of the Archdiocese for the Military Services (USA).
AMS, as it is commonly known, is a diocese like no other. It is global in nature without borders and receives no funding from the military or U.S. Government.
The Archdiocese for the Military Services (USA) is not entitled to parish assessments or Sunday collections. It depends entirely upon private contributions to fund its $9.3 million annual budget.
In 2012, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) approved the National Collection for the Archdiocese for the Military Services (USA). The triennial collection is scheduled every three years for the Sunday before Veterans Day.
For 2022, the collection will be taken up the weekend of November 6.
Most Rev. Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D. is the Archbishop for the Military Services (USA). The mission of AMS is “Serving Those Who Serve.”
CHAPLAIN CAPT. JOHN SHIMOTSU BAPTIZES AN INFANT IN THE SHIP’S BELL ABOARD. COURTESY PHOTO
“I can think of no one more in need of spiritual care than those who put their lives on the line, defending our great nation, and all for which it stands, including the right to the free exercise of religion,” he said.
Archbishop Broglio added, “Yet, many of these men and women are themselves forced to go weeks at a time without access to spiritual counsel and the sacraments simply there are not enough priests to go around. Church studies have shown that the military itself is the greatest source of new priest vocations year in and year out.”
According to the archbishop, the Co-Sponsored Seminary Program has partnered with dioceses and religious orders throughout the United States and has brought men by the dozens to seminaries to become priests and military chaplains over the past 15 years including the Diocese of Orange.
In the Co-Sponsored Seminary Program, all the costs of seminary expenses to educate and train these priests are shared equally between the home diocese or religious order and the Archdiocese for the Military Services.
But this comes at a cost. AMS needs to pay its share. There are currently 38 men in the Co-Sponsored Seminary Program. The average annual cost to the Archdiocese of the Military Services is about $25,000 per seminarian. With that, the cost over the next five years is anticipated to be about $4.5 million.
In addition to the Co-sponsored Seminary Program, donations go toward the $7 million annual budget for Evangelization and Religious Education programs, Marriage Enrichment Retreats, Sacramental Records for baptisms, confirmations, weddings and other sacraments celebrated on military installations, a Tribunal to adjudicate annulments, Vocations and Veterans Affairs.
After seminary graduation and ordination, these men agree to complete at least three years of priestly ministry within their diocese or religious community before entering the military chaplain training program.
Air Force Chaplain Capt. Joseph Hoang received permission from Bishop Vann to enter the Air Force chaplaincy program in 2015. He is currently serving as chaplain at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.
“I find it very rewarding to provide spiritual and mental support to military members and their families,” Chaplain Hoang said.
“I am able to live out my vocation as a priest in the ministry to Jesus to comfort the afflicted and heal and save Servicemembers and military families.”
Following graduation from Virginia Military Institute, Captain John Shimotsu, USN (Ret.) served as a Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) for four years in the U.S. Navy before entering seminary and eventually being ordained as a Catholic priest for the Diocese of Orange. He spent the next 22 years as a Navy chaplain before his retirement from the Navy and returning to the Diocese of Orange where he was appointed pastor of St. Anne Catholic Church in Seal Beach earlier this year.
“If in a position to do so, I ask you to prayerfully consider a donation to help me minister to the Catholic faithful throughout the U.S. and around the globe who serve to protect,” Archbishop Broglio implored.
“They are the Catholic military men and women, Veterans and their families who are part of this global Archdiocese – perhaps even from your diocese or even your own parish.”
Bishop Vann said he is proud of the role the Diocese of Orange has played.
“Our Diocese has, over the years, had a strong commitment to the Military Services by releasing priests to serve as Chaplains and being available to offer Mass at military installations in and near our diocese,” he said. “Even after they leave active duty, these chaplains still support the women and men of the Armed Forces in as many ways as possible.”
Contributions to the Triennial National Collection may be made with designated special collection envelopes, online or via mail.
For more information about the Archdiocese for the Military Services (USA) and the Triennial National Collection, go to https://www.milarch.org/nationalcollection/.