The Courage of US Military Chaplains
The National Catholic Register ran a piece on military chaplains entitled “Profiles in Courage: Military Chaplains,” documenting the roles and experiences of Catholic chaplains in the US military. While it noted the typical shortage, it also highlighted a surge of new volunteers:
The Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA reported a sharp jump this year in the number of seminarians interested in serving as military chaplains. As the 2011-2012 academic year begins, there are 31 military-affiliated seminarians nationwide, up from three just three years ago.
The article also profiled four military chaplains.
Chaplain (LtCmdr) Karl-Albert Lindblad noted some unique differences between the civilian priesthood and military service:
“We travel a lot, we can get shot at, and we’re asked to live in small spaces.”
Unlike a civilian priest, a military priest lives with his congregation: “It can be both exhilarating and challenging. While you’re trying to be a role model and witness Christ to them, some days they see your worst side…”
Being away from home six months or more at a time can be a burden, too. Those who are forced to kill others in battle approach him with moral concerns about their actions.
The article also highlights Chaplain (Col) Robert Bruno, currently serving at the US Air Force Academy. Chaplain Bruno has served for 31 years, for a simple reason:
I fell in love with the ministry.
The ministry to the military sometimes takes a unique character — which Chaplain Bruno seems to have in spades.
At 96 years old, Msgr. Jerome Sommer may be the oldest living military chaplain to have served in World War II.
Father Clement Davenport spent his military years serving in Korea and Vietnam. Though advised to return to the safer areas in the rear, he refused, because he knew where chaplains belonged:
He wanted to be on the front lines with the troops.
He explained, “That’s how we serve as priests. It’s part of our nature. We have to go where the suffering and dying is.”
Nicknamed “Father Lucky” for shrapnel that passed through his uniform (but not him),
Father Davenport believes in the saying “There are no atheists in foxholes.” Soldiers fighting and dying were often receptive to his ministry; some wore rosaries he had given them around their necks into battle.
Military chaplains truly serve an important and irreplaceable role in the US military.