Left to right: Bishop Joe S. Vásquez, newly ordained priests Father Enrique Sada-Coeto and Father Callan Sweeney, and Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio in Austin, TX, on June 5, 2021. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Austin.
AUSTIN, TX – Father Callan Sweeney, (1LT), USA, a candidate for the United States Military chaplaincy, was ordained a priest on Saturday, June 5, in Austin, TX. He plans eventually to serve as a Catholic chaplain in the U.S. Army with endorsement and faculties from the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (AMS). The new priest is on track to go on active duty following a three-year period of pastoral service in his home Diocese of Austin under its seminarian co-sponsorship agreement with the AMS.
Father Sweeney, 32, completed the program for priestly formation at Saint Mary’s Seminary in Houston. His ordination was celebrated at St. Vincent De Paul Catholic Church through the laying of hands and the prayer of consecration invoking the Holy Spirit by Bishop Joe S. Vásquez. His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio,
J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services, concelebrated the 10:30
a.m. ordination Mass. Among those in attendance were the new priest’s
parents, Steven and Jean Sweeney, and his sister, Ms. Sarah Sweeney Ray.
Father Sweeney is a 2007 graduate of Lake Travis High School in Austin, TX, and a 2011 graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy
(USMMA) in Kings Point, NY. It was through the example of the priest
chaplains at the USMMA, he said, that he discovered his vocation. The
newly-ordained priest holds a Bachelor of Science Degree from the USMMA,
and in 2019, he earned a Master of Science in Psychology from Divine Mercy University in Arlington, VA. From 2011 to 2014, he served on active duty with the 1st Aviation Brigade at Fort Rucker, AL, and now serves as a Chaplain Candidate in the Army Reserve with the 17th Psychological Operations Battalion, based in Austin.
The eventual service of Father Sweeney and other Catholic
chaplain candidates is greatly anticipated by the Army, which, like
other branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, continues to suffer a chronic shortage
of Catholic chaplains due to attrition: priests are reaching mandatory
military retirement faster than they can be replaced. Since 9/11, the
number of active-duty U.S. Military chaplains in all branches of service
has fallen from more than 400 to fewer than 200. While Catholics make
up about 25% of the U.S. Armed Forces, Catholic priests currently
account for only about seven percent of military chaplains. In the Army,
83 priests currently on active duty serve some 118,000 Catholic
soldiers. That’s approximately one priest for every 1,325
Catholics spread worldwide, not counting their families, whom the
priests also serve.
At the same time, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), the military itself continues to be a rich source of vocations in the U.S. CARA’s annual Survey of Ordinands to the Priesthood
found that five percent of the Class of 2021 has prior military
experience, and 11% comes from families where at least one parent served
in the military, making the AMS the nation’s largest source of new
priests. The actual numbers are certain to be higher, because only 73%
of this year’s ordinands (346 out of 472) responded to the survey.
The AMS is now busy tapping this source for prospective chaplains. The Vocations Office
is focusing attention on active-duty servicemen expressing an interest
in the priesthood, inviting more qualified candidates to consider
joining the Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program,
a vocations partnership between the AMS and cooperating dioceses and
religious communities around the country. In the case of Father Sweeney,
the partner diocese is the Diocese of Austin.
Under the co-sponsorship agreement, Father Sweeney will
provide civilian pastoral service for three years in the Austin Diocese
before going back on active duty in the Army. Upon completion of his
Army service, he will return to Austin for further ministry.
Thanks in large part to the support of U.S. bishops and
religious superiors, along with increased awareness and discernment
opportunities, the number of co-sponsored seminarians such as Father
Sweeny has risen from seven in 2008 to 36 today.
The AMS, which receives no funding from the government and
depends entirely on private giving, is now looking for ways to fund a
fast-rising seminary bill, now projected at more than $5 million over
the next five years. To support the Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program, visit milarch.org/support-seminarians/.
Gifts made through June 30 will be matched dollar for dollar up to a
total of $25,000 by a retired military couple wishing to remain
anonymous in their generosity.
Young men interested in discerning a priestly vocation, and the
vocation within a vocation to serve those who serve in the U.S.
military, can find more information at milarch.org/vocations, or may contact the AMS Vocations Office at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 719-3600.