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BY KIMBERLY JANSEN
six years since his ordination for the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb., Father Brian
Kane has encountered a wider range of pastoral settings than many priests do in
He has served in a parish, taught
high-school religion and ministered to college students. And the 32-year-old
now resides at Camp al-Asad, Iraq, serving
as a chaplain with the Nebraska Army National Guard.
In addition to celebrating several
Masses a day and hearing confessions regularly, Father Kane can be found doing
pushups at 7 a.m., sitting with a soldier suffering from heat exhaustion or
joking around in the mess hall.
As long as it doesn’t involve a
weapon or deadly force, anything his unit does, Father Kane does.
“It’s a good opportunity for me to
visit with soldiers and make myself more present, sweating and training just
like them,” Father Kane told the Register. “That can go a long way.”
As a result, the young priest says
soldiers have gradually become more comfortable stopping by his room to talk or
to ask a question.
“A week does not go by that some
young Marine or soldier comes into my office and says he wants to become
Catholic or wants to go to confession and hasn’t been in years,” he says. Three
RCIA classes formed on base to prepare soldiers to receive the sacraments this
Father Kane’s willingness to share
intimately in the everyday experiences of those in his care has been a hallmark
of his priesthood. At St. Thomas Aquinas Newman Center on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln
campus, where Father Kane served prior to deployment, he was known to lend a
hand with a flat tire or to join a group of students going out for a bite to
According to Father Robert Matya, pastor at the Newman Center
and vocation director for the Diocese of Lincoln, students from all walks of
life find Father Kane approachable.
“He’s good at being able to read
people and meet them where they are,” Father Matya
says. “With college students, that’s not always easy.”
a Nebraska senior and former member of the Newman Center’s
executive board, sums up Father Kane’s attractiveness to young people in two
words: “He’s real.”
“Our group of friends can take him
places without feeling awkward,” she adds. Whether at the pulpit, in the
confessional or at a restaurant, “he presents life as real as it can get.”
Sgt. Nathan Kane (no relation)
agrees. “I always remember that, if you wanted to have a serious conversation
and get advice for a problem, he was right there,” says the Nebraska graduate, who initially recruited
Father Kane to the chaplaincy. “At the same time, he would be just as willing
to hang out and play basketball.”
Father Kane’s success with college
students may result from the nurturing his own vocation received at the Newman Center
a decade ago. Although he was raised in Silver Spring,
Md., he spent summer vacations on his
grandparents’ Nebraska farm and later attended
the University of
He began to attend daily Mass
there and “started to have a longing in my heart to do the things priests do,”
he says. “I would sit after Mass and catch myself thinking, ‘If I were a
priest, I think I’d say this in a homily.’ I found myself not just coming for
the social side, but becoming more and more in love with the Mass and with the
Eucharist, with Jesus.”
Father Kane says his decision in
1994 to enter the seminary was a culmination of “lots of little things”
beginning with a love for teaching and a strong Catholic home life.
As he began priestly life, Father
Kane quickly gained a reputation for his availability and willingness to help.
According to Newman
Center housekeeper Cara
Ashburn, Father Kane’s talents included fixing computers, building a courtyard
fountain and sewing altar cloths for the student parish’s 40 Hours devotion.
“When he sees a great need, he
tries to respond,” Father Matya says.
Confronted with the possibility of
becoming an Army chaplain, however, Father Kane initially hesitated.
“Never in a million years did I
picture myself in the military,” Father Kane says. “I thought, ‘It doesn’t
sound like I’m cut out for that.’ I’m not exactly ‘Mr. Atlas.’”
Nevertheless, as he began to
understand the need, he felt the Holy Spirit calling him to check it out
Eight months into his Iraq tour,
Father Kane is even more convinced of the necessity of more priests to minister
to men and women serving in dangerous conditions. “Where else do we need
priests more,” he says, “than to hear the confessions of people heading out on
a patrol or convoy?”
Christ in the Desert
As a priest-chaplain, Father
Kane’s primary job is to administer the sacraments, but he is responsible for
the spiritual health of all men and women on base. In the absence of a
non-Catholic chaplain, he conducts non-denominational services. He even holds
the keys to the local mosque.
Additionally, Father Kane educates
the soldiers on local religious customs and advises the commander on the
soldiers’ spiritual fitness and the morality of particular military actions.
He also currently supervises the
construction of a large chapel, scheduled to open this month. An adjoining
24-hour Blessed Sacrament chapel is in the works, he says. For now, service
members sign up for adoration in half hour slots on First Fridays.
Before leaving for Iraq, Father
Kane anticipated the importance of maintaining his own spiritual life amidst
potentially “draining and demanding” conditions. He points particularly to the
Office of Readings for the Feast of St. Charles Borromeo,
which advises the priest: “Do not give yourself to others so completely that
you have nothing left for yourself.”
“This could sound selfish at
first,” he says, “but the priest has to pray and has to be, as Fulton Sheen
says, a ‘Eucharistic priest.’ By doing this each day, we are nourished to serve
whoever may walk into the door.”
Father Kane says the Mass sustains
him through daily difficulties — and that he was especially aware of this
“We get to encounter Jesus as he
encountered so many who were searching years ago,” he says. “One of the
blessings of being a priest in Iraq
is seeing God at work in the desert.”
Kimberly Jansen writes
from Lincoln, Nebraska.