November 10, 2006

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

Catholic chaplaincy is committed to military

Shirley Vogler MeisterMany countries with the Commonwealth of Nations honor veterans, both the living and the dead.

One of my 2006 calendars lists Nov. 11 as our Veterans Day as well as the date of Remembrance Day in Canada, Jour du Souvenir in Quebec, Armistice in France and Wapenstilstandsdag in Belgium.

Of course, there are many more commemorations missing from the calendar. Even if no day was set aside for those who serve their country in the military, these men and women would still be remembered by families and friends—and the Catholic priests who serve as military chaplains.

Only recently did I learn that these priests represent the Archdiocese for the Military Services (AMS), which makes sure that those dedicated to defending our country have access to spiritual and pastoral services and support, immediately if possible. AMS serves without territorial boundaries and is present throughout the free world.

Through the years, I have watched many war films depicting Catholic chaplains, but did not even think about how such men were assigned to serve the Armed Forces. Now I know.

In 1939, Pope Pius XII named Archbishop Francis Spellman, the newly appointed archbishop of New York, to be his military vicar in the United States. That December, Pope Pius appointed Father John O’Hara, president of the University of Notre Dame, as military delegate.

At the time, there were 50,000 Cath-olics among the 250,000 Americans serving in the military.

Currently, chaplains serve more than 1.4 million Catholic men and women, including 375,000 in uniform, more than 900,000 family members, plus 300,000 in the Reserve and Coast Guard, those serving in government service overseas and others receiving care at Veterans Administration hospitals. More than 1,000 priests share sacraments and solace through AMS, and they are supported, of course, by Catholic laity.

I am grateful that I recently, by accident, found the Web site for the Archdiocese for the Military Services USA on the Internet at

There, I read how chaplains’ days are “long and often lonely. Yet, most would not trade this ministry for any other. The rewards are great. The support of people in the military is there. They are open to spiritual growth and willing to work for it. As the people in our military do the difficult work of protecting freedom, Catholic chaplains walk beside them, providing the spiritual and emotional strength they need.”

Chaplains also die in service. In fact, one of them is being considered for sainthood. More about this and many other fascinating facts can be found on the comprehensive and efficiently organized AMS Web site.

There, readers can also learn the history of chaplaincy from Old Testament times through all wars up to the modern age and including Operation Enduring Freedom.

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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