On Nov. 11, our nation honors the service and sacrifice of veterans throughout the history of the nation.
For many Americans, Veterans Day has a personal connection to our lives, including our lives of faith. Across our Diocese, including at St. Anne’s in Seal Beach where I am assigned, among our parishioners there are many veterans and military family members.
As for my family, in addition to my late father, a Marine who served in the early 1960s, I had three great uncles who served in the Army’s 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II.
Their commitment to our country, devotion to duty and the sacrifices made in defending her have always inspired me.
Since I was on active-duty service in the Navy when I became Catholic, my first Diocese was the Archdiocese for the Military Services (AMS). In 1985 the great number of Catholic priests serving as Navy chaplains meant that I was able to participate in daily Mass on the bases where I was assigned and frequently even on my ship when it was at sea. Daily Mass and having a priest present as we dealt with challenges like recovering refugees on a boat from Vietnam, seeing religious persecution during a port visit in Communist China and standing up to the Soviet Pacific Fleet were parts of my life as I discerned a priestly vocation.
When I left the Navy for the seminary, I had to find a diocese. Thankfully, through the initiative of a prospective seminarian named Kevin Sweeney, Bishop McFarland of the Diocese of Orange agreed to participate in the Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program of the Military Archdiocese. The program specified that upon ordination a priest would serve for three years in his home diocese and then be released to the AMS. Whether the priest spent a few years or a few decades as a chaplain, upon separation from the military, the priest would return to his home diocese.
Fr. Kevin and I went to Mount Angel Seminary, were ordained priests for the Diocese of Orange, served in parishes for three years and then for over 20 years in the military. In the military, unlike a civilian parish, most of the people under our care were not Catholic. We provided Catholic Sacraments and instruction to Catholics, facilitated access to chaplains or resources for servicemembers of other beliefs, cared for all servicemembers and their families by helping them deal with the challenges of military life, and advised commanders. Upon retiring from the Navy, both Fr. Kevin and I returned to the Diocese of Orange. At one time we both served in the NIMITZ Aircraft Carrier Battle Group. Now we both happily serve in Deanery V.
There is a great need for priests to serve in our Armed Forces as chaplains. Today there are fewer than 200 priests serving as active-duty chaplains for all branches of the US military. No longer do servicemembers have access to priest-chaplains when deployed or in garrison like I did while discerning a vocation.
The shortage of priests in the military chaplaincy has an impact beyond the military. Seventeen years ago, Veterans were 10% of newly ordained priests in the US. While Veterans are still over-represented in the percentage, in 2022 it dropped to 3% (CARA, Report on Newly Ordained Priests, 2006 and 2022).
Please pray for our Veterans and their families, especially those who bear the wounds of war. Pray also for vocations so that those serving in our Armed Forces and their families may be able to encounter Christ in Word and Sacrament.