TribLIVE

| USWorld


 
Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Army chaplain on mission to recruit more priests for military duty

About The Tribune-Review
The Tribune-Review can be reached via e-mail or at 412-321-6460.
Contact Us | Video | Photo Reprints

Daily Photo Galleries


By The Tennessean

Published: Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013, 7:00 p.m.

NASHVILLE — For 14 years, the Rev. Joel Panzer had a peaceful life as Catholic priest and school principal in his hometown of Lincoln, Neb.

The war on terror changed that. Five years ago, Panzer left his parish in Nebraska and became an active-duty Army chaplain.

It's a calling that's taken Capt. Panzer to Iraq twice and transformed him from a parish priest into a kind of missionary. Most of his time these days is spent among people who don't share his faith. And he said he's loved almost every minute of it.

“I was used to everything being Catholic,” he said. “It's been an eye-opening experience.”

Panzer was in Nashville for a meeting of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, a gathering of the leaders of Catholic religious orders from around the country. He's hoping to persuade a few of those leaders to allow their priests to become Army chaplains.

By doing so, he hopes to reverse a rising shortage of priests in the military.

About a quarter of the soldiers in the Army are Catholic, but only about 6 percent of the Army's chaplains are Catholic priests.

All military branches combined have just 239 Catholic priests on active duty, said a spokesman for the Archdiocese for the Military Services USA, which oversees Catholic military chaplains.

The number of priests in the military has been declining in recent years, in part because of a mandatory retirement age of 62 for military chaplains, said a spokesman for the archdiocese. That means chaplains are retiring more quickly than they can be replaced.

There are some signs of a turnaround. In 2007, there were seven seminarians training to be military chaplains. Today, there are about 40.

Because of the priest shortage, Panzer was always on the move.

“Every week, I was on a Black Hawk or Chinook helicopter going somewhere to say Mass, then back to the main base for four or five Masses on the weekends,” he said.

Panzer said most of the soldiers he works with don't share his Catholic faith. According to the Defense Department, the largest faith group among active-duty personnel is nondenominational Christians. The second-largest group is those with no religious affiliation, followed by Catholics.

“As a pastor, I was the teacher,” he said.

“In the Army, the important thing is taking time to listen.”

 

 
 


Show commenting policy

Most-Read Nation

  1. Automaker GM’s wait on Saturn Ion safety recall took years
  2. ‘Patriots’ back Nevada rancher; Reid labels them ‘domestic terrorists’
  3. IRS, other agencies award contracts to license plate tracking company
  4. First date in New Jersey ends with him pilfering her TV and Yorkshire terrier
  5. Health care law enrollee passwords at risk for Heartbleed Internet security flaw, feds warn
  6. Mauling puts bears back on firing line in Central Florida
  7. Washington’s snowy owl recovers from apparent bus crash, returns to wild
  8. SpaceX supply ship makes Easter cargo delivery to space station
  9. Obama, House Republicans trade accusations in thwarting immigration reform
  10. Fox fires exec who used email to plan aid
  11. Drug crime reclassification to help ex-cons get vote rights
Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.