Unsung heroes: Catholic chaplains in armed services deserve our support Print
Written by Mary Uhler   
Thursday, Nov. 07, 2013 -- 12:00 AM

As we prepare to mark Veterans Day on November 11, we should take time to remember and thank all those who have served our country in the armed services.

Some of us have relatives, friends, and neighbors who faithfully served their country. Many of them did so quietly with little fanfare. I can still remember that my father-in-law, who served on many bombing missions in World War II, was very reluctant to talk about his service to his country. It was just something he did.

Chaplains: unsung heroes

Perhaps the most unsung of our heroes in the armed services are the chaplains. These are priests who have dedicated all or part of their ordained ministry to serving in all branches of our armed forces.

With a shortage of priests in many dioceses, it is indeed a challenge to find priests to be military chaplains. Over the years, the Diocese of Madison has been fortunate to have priests willing to give of their time and expertise to work with military personnel and their families.

We have two priests at this time — Msgr. Donn Heiar and Fr. Jason Hesseling — who are military chaplains. Among other priests in our diocese who have served in the military in past years are Msgr. John Hebl, Fr. Randy Budnar, and Fr. Michael Klarer. There are many other priests who have served in the history of our diocese, including our first bishop, Bishop William P. O’Connor, who was a chaplain during World War I.

Serving those who serve

People involved in the armed services have spiritual needs just like those in civilian life, maybe even more so. They can be involved in life and death situations, and no doubt especially appreciate the religious and pastoral care provided by chaplains.

In 1985, Blessed Pope John Paul II created the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (AMS). It is the only archdiocese authorized to grant endorsement and faculties for Catholic priests to serve as chaplains in the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, the service academies, and the VA.

The AMS is also responsible for serving American civilians working beyond U.S. borders for the federal government, but due to a chronic shortage of priests, it cannot adequately reach this population.

According to the AMS, there are 1.8 million American Catholics worldwide who depend on 1,105 AMS-endorsed priests for their spiritual care and practice of the faith. This includes 234 active-duty military chaplains; 374 civilian priests working for the Department of Defense either as contractors or civil service employees; 279 VA chaplains; and 218 National Guard and reserve chaplains.

First special collection

American Catholics have a  unique opportunity this weekend (November 9 to 10) to support Catholic ministry in the U.S. military and Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Centers by giving to a first-ever special collection in parishes across the country. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) approved the national special collection last year, to be taken up once every three years beginning this fall.

Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, archbishop for the Military Services, said,  “The country has been at war for more than 10 years. The men and women in the military, and their families, have experienced a very heavy professional and personal burden and a number of hardships. They rely on our Catholic chaplains for spiritual guidance and support. I think caring for military personnel is a concern of most American Catholics and I am confident that they will be generous.”

The AMS receives no funding from the government; it relies on private donations for its survival. Please be generous this weekend to help our unsung heroes: the chaplains who serve our armed services. For more information, go to the AMS website at and continue to pray for our chaplains and those they serve.