From West Point to the Priesthood

Newly ordained West Point grad will minister both as diocesan priest and Army chaplain.

L to R: Joshua Miller in uniform at his West Point graduation in 2012; Father Miller at his first Mass in June 2024
L to R: Joshua Miller in uniform at his West Point graduation in 2012; Father Miller at his first Mass in June 2024 (photo: Courtesy of Father Joshua Miller and Goldhouse Productions)

While Father Joshua Miller was a West Point cadet, he expected he’d be deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan after completing his training at the New York-based U.S. military academy.   

But by the time he graduated in 2012, the U.S. government was bringing troops home from the conflict areas, and Father Miller’s Alaska-based team was put on standby for the Pacific rather than the Middle East. Some of the soldiers he supervised, however, have served in those war zones and came to him psychologically, emotionally, spiritually or physically wounded.  

“What they really needed was someone to listen, someone to talk to, someone to listen to their stories,” said Father Joshua, 34, who, as an Army captain for five years, supervised a combat team of up to 40 soldiers, mostly at Fort Wainwright near Fairbanks, Alaska, before discerning a call to become a priest and military chaplain. 

Father Joshua Miller platoon
With his platoon in South Korea(Photo: Courtesy of Father Joshua Miller)

“I recognized, through many, many of these conversations, in my own heart the desire to be a spiritual father to them rather than be their boss,” he said. 

Father Miller’s desire to help wounded soldiers, their families and other military personnel led him to leave his 10-year Army career, discern and apply for the priesthood in two different dioceses, and study at two major seminaries, while also preparing to serve as a full-time military chaplain. 

His ordination to the priesthood on June 8 at the Basilica of St. Stanislaus Kostka in Winona, Minnesota, by Winona-Rochester Bishop Robert Barron, marked the end of his long journey to his priestly vocation and the beginning of a new adventure of bringing Christ as a priest to the Winona-Rochester Diocese and into the military culture he knows well. 

Father Joshua Miller, first Mass
Father Joshua Miller celebrates his Mass of thanksgiving, June 2024.(Photo: Goldhouse Productions)


Father Joshua Miller and parents
Father Joshua Miller gives his parents special gifts: the maniturgium, which was used to cleanse his hands, to his mother, Karen, and his first confessional stole to his father, Gregory.(Photo: Goldhouse Productions)

Through a co-sponsored seminarian program between the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (AMS) and the Winona-Rochester Diocese, Father Miller will serve for three years in his diocese and then five years as a full-time military chaplain, before returning to serve in the diocese.  

Father Joshua Miller ordination
Father Miller celebrates his ordination with Bishop Robert Barron of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota, and his parents, Karen and Gregory Miller.(Photo: Courtesy of Father Joshua Miller)

“I’m very excited, in the sense that seminary is a long journey, and it’s pretty arduous,” said Father Miller, who begins his first priestly assignment as a parochial vicar at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Owatonna, Minnesota, about 65 miles south of Minneapolis, this month. 

“I feel like I’m at the very beginning of the rest of my life, a long adventure of priesthood and then in the chaplaincy.” 

The Army and other branches of the U.S. military are in great need of Catholic chaplains, according to the AMS. Only 82 Catholic priests are now on active duty in the Army, and 53 are in reserves, serving more than 250,000 Catholic soldiers worldwide, as well as their families; according to the AMS, these chaplains are entrusted with the pastoral care of 1.8 million Catholics in the U.S. and worldwide, including men and women serving in the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Space Force and Coast Guard and their families; patients in Veterans Affairs Medical Centers; and employees and families of the U.S. federal government outside the U.S. borders, the website states

The AMS doesn’t ordain its own priests but co-sponsors priests’ seminary tuition with dioceses and religious orders in exchange for priests serving as military chaplains for a period away from their diocese or religious community, according to Father Marcel Taillon, AMS vocations director.  

The AMS is currently co-sponsoring more than 35 prospective chaplains who are at different points in their seminary formation — an increase over past years, Father Taillon said, adding, “There are lots of men discerning out there; it’s a question of finding them and connecting.” 

The chaplains and prospective chaplains in seminary share a heroic charity, and “they want to sacrifice for God and country in that order.”   


Path to Priesthood 

Father Miller’s first priestly assignment is just 15 miles east of the farming community of Waseca, Minnesota, where he grew up. The oldest of five with four younger sisters in a Catholic family, Joshua left his hometown soon after high school to attend West Point, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in geospatial information science, involving the gathering and synthesizing of different data sources to map three-dimensional space on Earth. 

“I wanted to be in the military,” he said. “I wanted to be an officer. I wanted to serve. I wanted to be a leader.  At the time, I didn’t really care about what the education piece was, just the degree to say that I had a degree.”  

After graduating from West Point, Father Joshua was stationed permanently at Fort Wainwright, but also traveled to Japan and South Korea. When he saw his soldiers’ needs, he realized he wanted to help them rather than continuing his career as a field artillery officer.  

Although Father Miller said he wasn’t fully practicing the Catholic faith at the time, he sought out a Catholic chaplain who told him he would need to be ordained a priest if he wanted to be a Catholic chaplain so he could administer the sacraments.  

“That was one of the initial conversations that led me into a greater journey of faith that eventually led to the seminary,” he said. “It was a sense of, I couldn’t give them what they needed. I wanted to be able to help them, but I just couldn’t in my current role as an officer.” 

Joshua wasn’t sure about priesthood, but the desire to be a spiritual father didn’t go away. He started praying and attending Mass and confession. He also decided to leave active military service after meeting his five-year commitment with West Point. 

A book he read on discerning diocesan priesthood convinced him he could become a priest. The Fairbanks diocesan vocation director encouraged him to move into a household for men discerning priesthood. Later, then-Fairbanks Bishop Chad Zielenski, a former Air Force chaplain who served three tours of duty in war zones, including in Iraq and Afghanistan, told Joshua he would support him if he wanted to become a priest for the Fairbanks Diocese and also pursue military chaplaincy. 

Bishop Zielinski, who now leads the Diocese of New Ulm, Minnesota, said he was impressed with the soldier’s dedication to Church teaching, the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours. He also recognized Father Miller’s service in the Fairbanks Diocese’s challenging environment. 

“He had a very open heart and mind as he grew to understand the native culture — and a lot of it was his willingness to enter into what we call their subsistence way of life — that they lived off the land, they hunted and fished because they had to survive,” Bishop Zielinski, who spent 21 years in the military, including as a chaplain, told the Register. “They embraced him, and I thought he did extremely well with that. I think his military background, training at West Point, some of the training that he had, Arctic environment training with the Army out of Fort Wainwright was a significant contributor.”  

Joshua Miller Alaska
Franciscan Father Thin Tran (r) and Joshua Miller (l) visit the town hall in Nulato, Alaska.

Seminarian Miller began studying for the priesthood for the Fairbanks Diocese at Mundelein Seminary in the Archdiocese Chicago in fall 2017.  

Father Joshua Miller Rome
Joshua, at left, in Rome with seminarians from his current diocese, Winona-Rochester(Photo: Courtesy of Father Joshua Miller)

“Even before my first semester was over, I was convinced that I was called to be a priest,” he said. “I didn’t really know what that meant or how that would affect my life or change me, but I knew that there was nothing else that would be more fulfilling for me personally other than chasing this call to serve people and try to be spiritual father rather than anything else.” 

Father Miller told the Register that at first he hesitated to pursue becoming Catholic chaplain because he desired to be married but later discerned that God was calling him to celibacy for the Kingdom. The desire for marriage didn’t go away, but he felt a greater desire to serve people through the sacraments.  

The Lord is “giving me this great gift to celebrate the Eucharist and give absolution,” he said, adding, “Only God has the power to forgive sins, and so I couldn’t not say ‘Yes’ at that point.”  


Return Home 

Toward the end of the 2021-22 school year, the seminarian sensed that God wanted him to be closer to his family. So he requested a transfer to the Winona-Rochester Diocese, which he said was a difficult decision. 

The priest-to-be was accepted by the Minnesota diocese in 2023 and was ordained a transitional deacon at his home parish in Waseca last September. He transferred to St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul for his final year to get to know the 10 other men studying for the diocese.  

Now in the Army Reserve, Father Miller went through the U.S. military’s chaplain candidacy program, which he likened to an internship, while in seminary. He will be fully recognized by the Army as a chaplain in November and then will serve part time as chaplain for his reserve unit.  

Father Miller’s pastoral ministry in his diocese during the next three years will also provide training and experience that will help him as a chaplain. Then, in 2027, when he begins serving as a full-time Army chaplain, his military experience will help his diocese, according to the AMS website.  

His next deployment, as an Army chaplain, may be to a conflict area or a location where military personnel haven’t previously had much access to the sacraments, Father Taillon said.    

“Sadly enough, there are a lot of spots that are not peaceful right now all over the world,” he said. “Our troops are everywhere; and so, definitely, God will provide whatever place he wants him to go.” 

Wherever he goes, Father Miller is responding to an extraordinary “calling within a calling,” Father Taillon said. “The Lord put that on his heart, and he wants to go back — not with a weapon, but with the Eucharist, with the sacraments,” he said. “It’s a very moving thing.”  

Father Miller said he’ll continue learning about the priestly ministry whether in his diocese or with the military. 

“I know that I have a strong calling,” he said. “I have every intention to go back to the Army. There were a lot of people at my ordination actually from the military, from my time in different places, who came up to support me, so I’m very excited.”