Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Military chaplaincy helps service men, fills need, and pays dividends

Sioux Falls, South Dakota (Bishop’s Bulletin) – Halfway around the world, diocesan priest, Father Gary DeRouchey is serving in Iraq as a Division Catholic Chaplain for the 10th Mountain Division out of Fort Drum, NY.

Father DeRouchey is a Major and a member of the Army Reserves and part of the Diocese of Sioux Falls relationship with the Military Archdiocese where the diocese shares some of its priests as Military chaplains.

It is a long term relationship Bishop Paul J. Swain hopes can and will continue. He recognizes the need that America’s service men and women have to access a chaplain’s gifts and skills.

“These [service] men and women, many of them young, are sacrificing a great deal to serve the country in often lonely and sometimes isolated and often dangerous locations,” the bishop said. “It is a time when faith is important and particularly for Catholics, the Eucharist is particularly important.

“It is certainly one of the important ministries that we, as Church, must provide to the extent we are able.”

The diocese has other priests serving as chaplains as well. Father Joe Holzhauser, pastor of St. Mary Parish, Aberdeen is a colonel and Joint Forces Headquarters state chaplain with the state’s Army National Guard.

Father David Stevens, pastor of St. Nicholas Parish, Tea and St. Christina Parish, Parker is a chaplain with the state Air National Guard as well.

Father Stevens expects to be called back to active duty later this year.

When call-ups happen, it poses a challenge to the diocese. “Certainly the reduction in numbers of priests make it difficult for any specialized ministry...” said Bishop Swain. “So if someone goes into the military as a chaplain, they obviously cannot be present in the parish so it’s a balancing and yet it’s one of those ministries that is vitally important at a key moment in people’s lives.”

Father DeRouchey understands that and agrees. Before attending seminary and becoming an ordained priest, DeRouchey was an enlisted soldier in the Army. Catholic OnLine

“As an enlisted soldier, I received wonderful spiritual care from the priests assigned to our unit or community and I felt it was only right to give back to those from whom I received care,” he said.

DeRouchey has served previously at the Pentagon, in Qatar, in Saudi Arabia, at Arlington National Cemetery and now in Iraq.

One of the things driving the diocese’s ongoing interest (to the extent it is able) in a relationship with the Military Archdiocese is the acute shortage of Catholic chaplains in all branches of the military.

For Father DeRouchey, he often sees how much of a difference his service can make to soldiers. “A soldier who came to the chapel for counsel told me, ‘chaplain, you saved my life.’ The stresses of every day life gets to many of these service members and I am there to help them on their journey,” DeRouchey said.

From encounters like that, he encourages others who share that they may have a vocation to the priesthood as the desire to serve in the Armed Forces as a chaplain.

Bishop Swain said some priests and several seminarians in the diocese have expressed that interest to him.

All of the diocesan priests who serve as chaplains do so with the permission of the bishop who reserves the authority to keep them here or call them back to the diocese if the need arises.

In Father DeRouchey’s case, “the bishop agreed to let me continue serving in the military.”

Bishop Swain wants the relationship with the Military Archdiocese to continue since there is such a benefit to the chaplains, the service men and women and the diocese.

“We pray for the safety of those in the military regularly and one way to visibly show that is by having chaplains,” said the bishop. “I think it is a good experience for the priests themselves. When they come home, they have an understanding of experiences that, I am sure, are very helpful pastorally.”

The diocese also supports the chaplains and other service men and women from across the diocese through the St. Raphael Fund for the Military and their Families.

St. Raphael is the patron saint for the safety of travelers and for healing – both particular needs of the military and their families. The fund is administered through Catholic Family Services and provides a compliment to its existing services to military and their families.

Donations can be sent to St. Raphael Fund, 523 N. Duluth Ave, Sioux Falls, SD 57104. Applications for funds can be obtained from the same address or through pastors at parishes across the diocese.

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