As was announced briefly at Mass this past weekend, I've been granted permission by Bishop McFadden to become a chaplain for the 193rd PA Air National Guard out of Harrisburg Airport - in addition to my serving as pastor here at At. Andrew's. So, I'm not being transferred, but taking on an additional responsibility. Here's the full story:
Just prior to Christmas the Diocese sent an email to all the priests asking of anyone was interested in assisting our men & women in the Air Force by becoming a chaplain for the unit. While in high school I had briefly pursued the possibility of joining the Air Force, but my "flat feet" kept me out. Then, after ordination, I ask Bishop Dattilo if he might consider allowing me to serve our military men and women by being part of the Army National Guard, but he would not permit priests to join the military at that point. Then came this email from the Diocese asking one of our priests to take over this needed pastoral ministry in our Diocese.
Just after Christmas, after talking to my spiritual director, I wrote expressing my interest, now knowing if the Bishop would agree to let me add this pastoral ministry to my parish duties. In mid-January I received a call from the Diocese telling me that Bishop had chosen to allow me to enlist and become a chaplain for the Air National Guard. He said that being a seasoned pastor in a parish that is running smoothly made the additional assignment something he felt I could do.
So, in the past weeks I have been completing the paperwork and all the necessary physicals and other requirements to be commissioned as an officer in the United States Air Force, eventually to be assigned to the PA Air National Guard (PA ANG) out of Harrisburg International Airport. While my commissioning has not yet taken place, I have begun to provide weekend pastoral services and Mass to our military men and women while they are on their 1x month drill duty.
Once I am commissioned, I will be required to attend drill duty once-a-month and 2-weeks in the summer. This will mean some additional time out of the parish and priest help on some weekends. I want to try to "work out a deal" with the military that will allow me to remain in the parish some weekends, while spending other with the PA ANG during drill weekends.
An additional requirement shortly after my commissioning will be my attendance at Officer Training School for 6-8 weeks. As yet I do not know when this will take place, but most likely within 1-year of my commission.
I am personally thrilled that Bishop has given me this opportunity to serve our brave men and women who protect us by being part of the Air Force. With many active duty military and retired veterans in our parish, I'm sure many will understand the urgent need for Catholic priests in our military services.
Will this be a sacrifice for our parish? Yes, just as it is a sacrifice for every family who has a member serving our country in the military. Yet to protect freedom and to support those who protect us, it is a sacrifice that many of the families in our parish and, I hope, our parish family are willing to make.