National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Onward Priestly Soldier

BY KIMBERLY JANSEN

April 23-29, 2006 Issue | Posted 4/24/06 at 10:00 AM

 

In just 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 a lifetime.

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 Easter.

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 eat.

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.”

Kate Zierke, 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.”

Familial Formation

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 Nebraska.

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 during Lent.

“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.