Early in July, the Archdiocese for the Military Services in Washington received a big boost from the Knights of Columbus. The fraternal organization handed the Military Archdiocese a check for $200,000 to launch the “Father McGivney Military Chaplain Scholarship.”
This check represents the first part of a $1-million commitment that the Knights have made through 2015 for a seminarian scholarship program to help future military chaplains.
The scholarship assistance to keep these men in formation will be a great help as education costs rise continuously.
In a statement at the presentation of the check in early July, Archbishop Timothy Broglio noted that over many years the Knights of Columbus has been most generous.
"The Father McGivney Military Scholarship is but the latest instance of the organization’s generosity,” Archbishop Broglio said, “and for that I am most grateful.”
The Father McGivney Military Chaplain Scholarship comes at a vital time. While the shortage of Catholic chaplains in the military continues, the Military Archdiocese is now seeing a turnaround, as more young men who want to fill the dire need for Catholic chaplains enter seminaries.
In 2001, there were 400 active-duty Catholic chaplains in the military. Today, there are only 243, a 40% drop in a little over a decade. The archdiocese states that Catholics make up about 25% of the U.S. Armed Forces. Department of Defense figures list more than 272,000 active personnel as “Catholic.” Yet only 8% of military chaplains are Catholic priests.
Add to that figure huge numbers of military dependents and civilian personnel working for the government around the world that chaplains include in their fold, and the shortage gap is considerable.
In 1984, Pope John Paul II created the archdiocese to provide the Catholic Church’s full range of ministries to Catholics serving in all branches of the military, those in U.S. military academies, and those being treated in military hospitals and Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Centers.
The numbers are staggering. According to the Military Archdiocese, its priests have faculties for ministry at more than 220 U.S. military installations in 29 countries, plus 153 VA Medical Centers across this nation. Adding in American Catholic civilians working in 134 countries for the federal government and military dependents, there are approximately 1.8 million Catholics worldwide depending on the archdiocese to meet their sacramental and spiritual needs.
The McGivney Scholarship will help meet those needs by aiding seminarians who will replace retiring chaplains.
In the last two months, the Military Archdiocese reported that seven priests and two transitional deacons were ordained. Each is heading toward being a chaplain in the military. This represents a big turnaround from last year, when only two were ordained; the year before, there were no ordinations.
Conventual Franciscan Father Kerry Abbott, director of vocations for the Archdiocese for the Military Services, pointed out that there are 43 current or soon-to-be seminarians, transitional deacons and newly ordained priests committed to become chaplains. That’s an increase from 23 last year and only 12 in 2009-10.
“The McGivney Scholarship could not come at a more opportune time, as we are blessed with a rich harvest of young men answering the call of the Holy Spirit to serve those who serve our nation in uniform,” Father Abbott said.
“The scholarship will not only support those who have made the decision to enter the seminary to become priest-chaplains,” he continued. “It will also serve as a witness to the support and sacrifice of the Knights for those still in the process of prayerfully discerning whether or not they are called to a priestly vocation. My profound gratitude to the Knights of Columbus goes beyond words.”
“Any single Catholic young man with a college degree who shows signs of having a vocation to priestly ministry and who can meet the academic requirements for seminary training and the qualifications for military service is eligible to apply. Many of the candidates are men on active duty, those with prior military service or sons of military families,” notes the Military Archdiocese website.
Father Abbott knows the need firsthand. In 2011, he retired as a lieutenant colonel after almost 24 years of military service as an Air Force chaplain, serving in the U.S. and in combat areas in Afghanistan and Iraq. There are approximately half of the needed 120 Air Force chaplains currently serving.
The scholarship is the latest Knights of Columbus program assisting vocations. Last year alone, the Knights reported that financial help to future priests, sisters and brothers from nearly 2,700 councils, assemblies and circles exceeded $2.8 million. Since 1981, the Knights have given more than $49.9 million to help more men and women follow their vocations. Since its scholarship programs began, the organization has awarded 1,016 scholarships to seminarians. (The Military Archdiocese is not included in these figures.)
“There are more than 50 Knights of Columbus councils on military bases around the world,” said Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus. “These members of our Armed Forces cherish their faith and are defending our freedom to practice it.”
“By supporting this program with the Archdiocese for the Military Services,” he said, “we desire to ensure that Catholic members of the military have the presence of a priest and the sacraments wherever they may be stationed in service to our country.”
Joseph Pronechen is the Register’s staff writer.