By PRIYA NARAPAREDDY, Catholic News Service | Published June 27, 2014
WASHINGTON (CNS)—For Oblate Father David Kenehan, the military chaplaincy is a convergence of two priorities in his life.
“You get to serve God and country at the same time,” said the priest, who is an Army colonel and pastor of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Catholic Parish in suburban Virginia just outside Washington.
An Army chaplain for more than 28 years, he is part of a “very fulfilling” ministry, he told Catholic News Service.
The military chaplain motto “Pro Deo et Patria,” which means “For God and Country,” also is personal, said Father Kenehan. His father was a soldier in the Army infantry during World War II and the Korean War.
“My brother also served for 23 years,” he said. “He was a signal officer in the Army. It was a very natural thing for me to be attracted to ministry to soldiers.”
Father Kenehan is one of 234 active-duty military chaplains who are part of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services, headed by Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio and based in Washington.
The priests on active duty help make up a total of 1,105 priests endorsed by the archdiocese to serve 1.8 million American Catholics worldwide.
A special national collection to be taken at Masses will help the archdiocese and its chaplains and pastoral staff “serve those who serve,” said Archbishop Broglio.
“The men and women in the military, and their families, have experienced a very heavy professional and personal burden and a number of hardships,” he told CNS in an interview. “They rely on our Catholic chaplains for spiritual guidance and support.”
The military archdiocese provides the full range of the Catholic Church’s pastoral ministries and spiritual services to the men and women—and their families—who serve in the nation’s five military branches, as well as patients at Veterans Affairs medical centers and Foreign Service personnel working outside the United States.
This is the first year of the special national collection for the military archdiocese. In November 2012 at their general fall assembly, the U.S. bishops agreed to add it to the number of other national collections the U.S. Catholic Church has in place.
Under the plan for the military archdiocese collection, it will be taken voluntarily in parishes every three years. It will be taken up in the Archdiocese of Atlanta July 5-6.
The funds will help the archdiocese, among other things, recruit more priests to serve as chaplains and combat a current shortage of clergymen to serve the troops in combat zones, on warships and in other military settings.
The donations also will help cover travel expenses for the archdiocese’s bishops and clergy staff to visit U.S. military personnel around the world. “They do not travel on military aircraft,” Archbishop Broglio said.
He and four active auxiliary bishops make pastoral visits throughout the year. Day-to-day operations of the archdiocese are handled at its Washington-based headquarters.
The annual expenses of the archdiocese are at least $5 million, Archbishop Broglio told CNS. He said he was confident Catholics will donate generously to the collection.
“I think caring for military personnel is a concern of most American Catholics,” he added.
According to its website, it is considered a “home mission” diocese that depends almost entirely on financial support from individual donors as well as gifts from military communities, as well as gifts from dioceses, charitable bequests and grants. It receives no funding from the military for any of its costs.
Archbishop Broglio said about 118 of all active-duty military chaplains, or about half, serve in the Army.
He said active-duty chaplains must be ordained priests, have at least three years of pastoral experience and be a citizen of the United States. All requirements of a priest’s archdiocese, as well as the branch of military service he is in must be fulfilled to serve as a chaplain.
“Chaplains also function as an officer,” he noted.
These chaplains do everything that a parish priest would do, including celebrating Mass, administering the sacraments and personal counseling.
Catholic priests who serve as military chaplains are on loan to the archdiocese from the 200 dioceses within the U.S., according to Father Kenehan. He said the length of a chaplain’s term can vary greatly, depending on how long his bishop is willing to let him serve.
Father Kenehan said priests rely on the support of the people they serve. The greatest need of the military archdiocese, he added, is more priests.
“It’s also the basic need for the church in America,” he said.