In a news release earlier this month, the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA reported a steady increase in the number of young men entering Catholic seminaries who would like to become military chaplains.
At the start of the 2011-2012 academic year, the number of co-sponsored and military-affiliated seminarians will stand at 31, up sharply from just three in 2008-2009; 12 in 2009-2010; and 23 in 2010-2011.
Co-sponsorship means that a diocesan bishop agrees to accept the young man as a seminarian, and that the seminarian will participate in the Chaplain Candidacy Program of one of the branches of the U.S. armed forces. The bishop agrees to release him for service as a military chaplain after three years of pastoral experience as a priest in his diocese. When the priest leaves military service, he returns to the diocese.
Father Kerry Abbott, O.F.M. Conv., Director of Vocations, said, “This is one of the ‘untold stories’ of the blessings of the Holy Spirit upon the Church and those faithful fervently seeking to respond to the Voice of God. Catholic seminaries in the United States, and the Pontifical North American College in Rome, are straining to accommodate the influx of seminarians entering formation programs leading to presbyteral ordination and military chaplaincy. . . .”
The outlook for future vocations is also very bright. The archdiocese is currently processing hundreds of inquiries from prospective military chaplains. Father Abbott expects anywhere from five to 10 more to enter seminaries next year, with still more to come in years to follow.
Many new vocations have military roots. According to a study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University, nearly 10% of men ordained as U.S. Catholic priests over the past two years had previously served in the military. Another 10% came from military families.
“When you think about it, this makes complete sense,” Father Abbott said. “Both the military and the priesthood rely on a largely common set of foundational values, including a commitment to service, self-discipline, and a higher calling. So it should come as no surprise that so many of our seminarians come from a military background and a growing number are looking to go back to the life they know after ordination.”
For more information about Catholic priestly vocations in the U.S. military, click here.