Admiral: By her prayers, example, Mother Seton understood maritime services
EMMITSBURG, Md. (CNS) – For retired U.S. Admiral William J. Fallon, the annual pilgrimage for Maritime Services Mass to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton National Shrine in Emmitsburg is not just a labor of love for himself.
It is also a labor of love for the family – its navy and the extended family of the United States Maritime Services who suffer from a severe shortage of Catholic chaplains while serving our country.
Fallon, chairman of the shrine pilgrimage sponsorship committee, recently recalled the time his son, a naval aviator who deployed to Iraq on an aircraft carrier, called him to tell him there was no priest assigned to serve the nearly 8,000 sailors on ships preparing to deploy.
“You’re kidding me,” Fallon remembers telling his son. “So I immediately called the CNO, the head of the Navy, who happened to be Catholic. They quickly reassigned a priest to come out as the ships departed. But this illustrates the problem. They just don’t have enough priests.
This year’s Pilgrimage Mass for Sea Services was celebrated on October 3 in the Basilica of Mother Seton Shrine.
At the Mass, people from across the country gathered to pray for and join in the US Navy, US Marine Corps, US Coast Guard, Merchant Navy and Public Health Service. to family and friends in prayer to thank Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton for her protection and ask for her continued intercession.
As Patron Saint of Maritime Services, Mother Seton, whose two sons served in the Navy, has a close connection to those who spend their lives at sea – men and women who need both her and her more than ever before. intercession and pastoral care of chaplains.
The number of Catholic chaplains in the military has dropped to just over 200 today. Hardest hit has been the Navy, which has only 41 Catholic priests on active duty for its some 120,000 Catholic sailors and Marines.
Fallon served in the Navy for over 40 years, retiring in 2008 as a Four-Star Admiral. His last posting was as commander of the US Central Command, with responsibility for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007 and 2008.
He recently discussed his involvement in the pilgrimage and his devotion to Mother Seton in a Q-and-A:
Q: How did you get involved in this work at Seton Shrine?
A: I had known for many years that the pilgrimage existed, attended it a few times during my active service, and saw how good it was. Once in the 1970s, as I was on a commercial airplane flight from Norfolk, Virginia to Washington and climbed into my seat, I noticed that my seatmate was a Catholic priest. I was in uniform, we introduced ourselves and he identified himself as Rear Admiral John O’Connor, the Chief of Navy chaplains at the time (later Cardinal Archbishop of the Archdiocese of New York). While he was Chief of Chaplains, he advocated for Mother Seton to be designated as Patron of Maritime Services, working with the late Admiral Jim Watkins, then Chief of Naval Personnel, to begin the pilgrimage. Admiral Watkins called me to the pilgrimage after I retired and then convinced me to replace him as chairman of the sponsorship committee. That was about 10 years ago.
Q: How do you get more priests involved as chaplains?
A: As the head of the sponsorship committee and retired naval officer, I make a point of discussing this with the church hierarchy. Almost all of the military chaplains come from the country’s dioceses. The Archdiocese of Military Services is trying to convince the bishops to bring them out, to let them enter the army, knowing that they too are short of personnel.
One of the things we keep telling bishops is that one of your great sources of new priests is in the armed forces. Those who have been in active service and end up having a vocation tend to be very good priests. They know the deal. They’ve been around. They know how the world works. They are really effective.
What has been encouraging lately is that the Archdiocese for Military Services has raised funds and used them to sponsor seminarians. They are asked to register and commit to serving as military chaplains once they are ordained and serving their time in their local dioceses. What happened is that the bishops first get three years of work, which is good because they need experience, and then they come to (military) services.
It was really helpful. I think that there are currently more than 50 seminarians who are assigned to all services. It is a step in the right direction.
Q: Have priests been important in your career?
A: Oh sure. And there were many more.
It is really necessary. From my experience in Vietnam, we were young, nervous and happy that priests were there to help us. Even when I led my air wing in the Gulf War a few years later, my men were grateful to have a Catholic chaplain with us.
Having a good chaplain on this ship, I can tell you, has been very helpful in putting them at ease. (The chaplain told them) There is a higher meaning here. Put your trust in God and go for it. It was helpful in calming the guys down.
During the Vietnam War, we had a priest who saved the lives of several sailors on the USS Saratoga when there was a terrible fire in the engine room. He led the charge in these spaces in an attempt to save people. Three sailors died, but he saved a few guys. He was injured but did not hesitate and took them out.
And of course there was Father Vincent Capodanno, a missionary from Maryknoll who entered the Navy as a chaplain during the Vietnam War and was killed in a battle in 1967 for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery. exceptional. He had an excellent reputation among the Marines. They loved him and called him the “Grunt Padre”.
He was killed on the battlefield serving some of the Marines who perished and others he helped save. He gave the last rites to those who did not succeed. Although he himself was wounded several times, he refused to leave the battlefield and was eventually killed as he attempted to protect an injured Marine with his own body. He is now a candidate for holiness.
Q: What brings you closer to Mother Seton?
A: She understood what our sailors and families are doing and going through. Through her prayers and example, she tried to help her sons in the service of the nation to become better people. She was a model, an example, certainly for me. And today people can look to her, and they won’t see anything abstract. He was a true person close to God who helped others and his own family in maritime services.
Q: Any memorable stories from the pilgrimage event?
A: Every year we invite the Catholic Choir of the Naval Academy to join us and sing at mass. And they usually come in large numbers. A few years ago, I had dinner after mass at a table in the sisters’ refectory with a couple and their children. We introduced ourselves. It turned out that the father was in the Navy and had met his wife on a maritime service pilgrimage. He sang that year with the choir of the Naval Academy. She was attending the pilgrimage with her parents and they met at the post-mass dinner. So here they are now, a family, with children and still present. This one stayed with me.
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