Increasing the Number of Catholic Chaplains for Men and Women in Uniform

They hear confessions in far-flung base camps in Afghanistan. They administer the sacraments on Navy destroyers. They travel constantly in combat zones, often saying Mass six or seven times in one weekend.

The work of Catholic chaplains in the U.S. military is far from easy, yet it’s vital work, especially to the more than 250,000 Catholics who are on active duty. But Catholic military chaplains are in short supply, with only 100 priests filling 400 Catholic chaplain spots in the U.S. Army alone.

In an effort to address this shortage, the Archdiocese for the Military Services initiated a program to recruit seminarians from within the military and, together with their home dioceses, pay their educational costs. The program receives support from Catholic Extension, and in just two years has quadrupled in size from seven to 28 seminarians. There have been 500 inquiries from men interested in military chaplaincy.

“These brave military members have already demonstrated attributes of honor, self-discipline, obedience and valor, which are fundamental to the priesthood,” says Father John McLaughlin, Vocations Director for the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA. “Catholic Extension’s funds will make it possible for us to continue promoting priestly vocations from within this incredible group of dedicated men.”

In 2010, Catholic Extension provided a grant of $125,000 to the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, to support this essential and successful program.

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No Catholic Left Behind (Alaska Part 1)

Ever since Fr. Wall joined Catholic Extension as president in 2007, the dioceses of Alaska – Juneau and Fairbanks along with the Archdiocese of Anchorage – have been encouraging him to visit,  to experience this unique expression of the Church that is supported by Catholic Extension donors.  This week we landed in Juneau, the smallest diocese in the country in terms of population, but one in which nine priests and one bishop “shepherd a flock” spread out over 700 miles, the size of Florida, and much of it navigable only by boat or plane.  The severe weather, vast distances and time it takes to travel are mind-boggling.  The spirit and faith of these Catholics is awe-inspiring.  The needs are great.

Bishop Burns of Juneau welcomes Fr. Wall to Shrine of St. Terese, a Catholic landmark on SE AK coastline.

According to locals, Alaska has the highest rate of suicide in the entire U.S, double the rest of the country.  It also has the highest rate of domestic violence.  The sheer beauty of southeast Alaska – snow-capped mountains and pristine glacial waters – can overshadow these tough realities. Yet, one becomes inspired by the faith and tenacity of the people coming together at the church even when they can’t have a priest on a regular basis.  (Catholics comprise about 10 percent of the population; more staggering is that approximately 60 percent of Alaskan’s are “unchurched.”)

We traveled by boat to Tenakee Springs (pop 131) where parishioners start pouring into the newly renovated St. Francis Chapel the minute the boat docks.  One parishioner has renovated the chapel with his own hands; another’s son-in-law has built the beautiful, rustic altar; another has  painstakingly repaired the broken pieces of the crucifix.  These are hands-on Catholics ready to celebrate the Eucharist any time a priest comes.  Catholic Extension has built or helped renovate nearly every church in Alaska and these parishioners – a faithful, outspoken bunch – are grateful for any chance to receive the Word or the Eucharist.  They are hungry for more.

Karla Donaghey of Diocese of Juneau restored the broken, worn crucifix for St. Francis Chapel in Tenakee Springs, AK (pop 104).

The next stop is Hoonah, a predominantly Native American community of 700 nearly two hours from Juneau.  Tragedy struck here last summer when two local policemen were gunned down for no apparent reason by a citizen.  The diocese is still trying to support the parishioners of Sacred Heart and the community as they recover from their shock and grief.

We celebrate Mass with Bishop Burns and Fr. Wall, among others.  One parishioner arrives in a wheelchair, delighted with the opportunity to experience the liturgy.  He prays a special intention “for those suffering from drug and alcohol abuse.”  He is accompanied by his friend, a woman, and they clutch hands as the Mass unfolds.  She has designed and painted Sacred Heart’s nameplate – another sign of the love and care these parishioners pour into their churches.

Back in Juneau, we learn that 32 young Catholics have worked tirelessly to raise the funds to attend World Youth Day in Madrid this summer.  Spaghetti suppers, car washes, raffle tickets, “chorebusters,” movie nights, and the presence of “kids at the church all the time running fundraisers” – coupled with funds from Catholic Extension donors – are making the trip possible.  It’s so important for these kids “to see and experience the universal church firsthand,” explained John, their youth ministry director.

Bishop Burns celebrating Mass in Juneau at the Catheral of the Nativity of the BVM.

With a diocese this vast, investing in technology is top of mind, explained Bishop Burns.  He’s already using Skype to communicate with youth groups too far away to reach.  It will be critical for adult faith formation as well as lay leader training.

We often hear that it’s our duty to ensure “no child is left behind.”  Visiting the Diocese of Juneau makes you realize that it’s also imperative to make sure “no Catholic is left behind.”  Thanks to Catholic Extension donors, and the work of some very determined, dedicated people, it’s working.

— Kathy Handelman, Director of Marketing Communications

Priest soars high above adversity

Tuwan Bowden in Fr. Garrett's plane, Levelock, Alaska

In Alaska, isolated communities and harsh weather conditions are no barrier for the Catholic faith. Father Scott Garrett recalls a powerful story from his ministry in the Spring issue of EXTENSION magazine. Click here to read how Fr. Garrett soars above obstacles to serve the Archdiocese of Anchorage.

Church Celebrates Year for Priests

Seminarian at Mt. Angel Seminary at St. Benedict in Oregon.

Seminarian at Mt. Angel Seminary at St. Benedict in Oregon.

Pope Benedict XVI recently announced that the Church will celebrate the Year for Priests from June 19, 2009, through June 19, 2010. Catholic priests throughout the world will spend this coming year deepening their commitment to their calling – a ministry of leadership, service and living the Gospel message.

Catholic Extension also invites you to celebrate the Year for Priests by reflecting on the gift of priesthood and learning more about the need to help educate seminarians for missions within our own country.

The call to priesthood resonates across America daily. Those who listen and respond spend years in academic and prayerful preparation. Many seminarians come from and return to serve in under-resourced and isolated mission areas like the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, where there is only one priest for every 9,000 Catholics. As they give their lives in resounding answer to a Divine calling, Catholic Extension partners with them at every step of their journey.

It costs an average of $25,000 a year, for six years or more, to educate and provide for each seminarian – a cost that is prohibitive to nearly 40 percent of the dioceses in the country. We invite you to make this year a special opportunity to support Catholic Extension’s Building Leaders initiative, which provides assistance to create the next generation of leaders in the church.

Support is a powerful expression of celebration and partnership. Through supporters like you, Catholic Extension can help defray the cost of tuition, books and training for nearly 400 seminarians preparing for the priesthood.

Their education and work is critical, and your support helps them move closer to the priesthood – and active missionary work.

“The church needs priests who are holy, ministers who help the faithful experience the merciful love of the Lord and who are convinced witnesses of that love.”

–Pope Benedict XVI