A new call: Former St. Paul’s priest becomes U.S. Navy chaplain

August 2018 Posted in People

By Elisha Valladares-Cormier

Parishioners walking into St. Paul Catholic Church in Silverton are greeted by a plaque recognizing the life and service of former St. Paul pastor Fr. Richard E. Carberry. Carberry was pastor from 1938-1940 before serving as a U. S. Army chaplain from 1940, just before the country entered World War II, until his death as a prisoner of war in 1945.

Now, more than 75 years after Fr. Carberry ministered to the Army’s faithful, another St. Paul’s priest is following his own call to military chaplaincy. Benedictine Fr. Basil Lawrence, a priest of Mount Angel Abbey, is becoming a Navy chaplain and will head to his first round of Navy training in September.

Fr. Basil, 34, served at St. Paul’s from summer 2015 until this July – the first year as parochial vicar and the following two as parish administrator – and returned to the Abbey beginning July 1.

After spending time as a seminarian for the Diocese of Las Vegas, Fr. Basil discerned into the Benedictine monastery in 2004, making simple vows in 2008 and solemn vows in 2011. He was ordained a priest by Archbishop Alexander Sample in 2014. He served in numerous capacities at the Abbey, including being the abbot’s secretary and assistant vocation director.

In 2015, Fr. Basil began his assignment at St. Paul’s. For a decade, the parish had been working on building a narthex, but was slowed due to a lack of funding. Fr. Basil helped bring the project to fruition and completion. He also sparked liturgical renewal within the parish, bringing it closer to the vision of the Church. He said he also worked to bring the parish’s different ethnic communities together.

“It was a good fit for me,” Fr. Basil said. “I really enjoyed it. It was a lot of learning – administrative learning, personal learning, learning how to shepherd.”

Closing in on three years at St. Paul’s, Fr. Basil began thinking about his next step: would he stay or would his superior ask him to return to Mount Angel Abbey?

There was a third option. In spring 2017, Fr. Basil began considering the possibility of becoming a military chaplain after the topic came up with a friend. He learned more about what the job entailed, speaking with others who had been affected by military chaplains, and started to think about it seriously.

The Archdiocese for Military Services cares for more than 1.8 million Catholics, according to its website. Fr. Basil began to realize that Catholics in the military and their families are especially in need of someone to care for their spiritual needs.

“The struggles of life are, in a sense, amplified in the military,” Fr. Basil said. “Marriage issues, especially couples where one or both of them are facing deployments. Deployment can be 6-9 months – that’s a long time to be away from each other, or from your children. Issues regarding substance abuse and suicide rates in the military are going up astronomically every year.

“All of these are important things for a priest to be a part of, and obviously celebrating Mass, baptizing children, witnessing marriages, hearing confessions, anointing the sick, all the important sacramental roles that a priest can play in the life of military personnel. These are men and women who need it the most and often don’t have access to it because there aren’t enough priests.”

He was finally convinced by a video he watched of Military Services Archbishop Timothy Broglio speaking to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops about the need for priests in his archdiocese. The archbishop made two specific points that hit home.

The first was that all the men and women serving come from dioceses and that if each bishop sent at least one priest to serve their people in the military, the military archdiocese would be in great shape.

Secondly, the Archbishop warned that the Navy was so shorthanded on priests, it seemed likely that not every outgoing aircraft carrier group has a priest.

“An aircraft carrier has 5,000-6,000 personnel,” Fr. Basil said. “You add up all the ships in the group, there could be 7,000 people in a group of ships that for 6-9 months is not going to have a priest. That’s crazy.”

He spoke with his superior, Abbot Jeremy Driscoll, in the fall of 2017 about the idea and was given permission to pursue military chaplaincy.

As it happened, one of the couples
Fr. Basil was preparing for marriage included a Navy recruiter who put him in contact with the appropriate authorities and he began the application process.

One of the first parts of the process included a physical exam in Portland where Fr. Basil had to show that he could meet the physical demands of being in the U.S. Navy.

“I was 34 years old, I’m there with 17-19 year old kids, practically,” he said. “I felt like an old man, but I was pleased with myself. At the end of the day, the old man could keep up with the kids.”

While completing his application at the Pentagon in April, Fr. Basil also had to complete a parallel track for the military archdiocese, which included an interview with Archbishop Broglio.

“All the priests of the military archdiocese has are on loan from somewhere,” said Fr. Basil. “Strictly speaking, they don’t have their own priests. Archbishop Broglio vets and interviews his candidates before accepting them.”

Throughout the entire process, Fr. Basil was hard-pressed to keep the potential chaplaincy under wraps. His community learned of his pursuit last December, but he and Abbot Jeremy kept it quiet until he had been accepted.

He was accepted by Archbishop Broglio in February and was accepted by the Navy at the end of April, at which point he began informing his parishioners.

Since leaving St. Paul’s, Fr. Basil has continued to prepare for the next steps before his first assignment. On Sept. 16, he reports to Newport, Rhode Island, for five weeks of Officer Development School. Chaplains are military officers, which makes this a required course.

He then heads to Fort Jackson in South Carolina for seven weeks of chaplain school, finishing in December before being shipped out to his first assignment – in Sasebo, Japan.

“I’m picking up a few Japanese tapes as well as history and cultural books to try and get a head start there,” he said with a laugh.

In addition, Fr. Basil is preparing for the pastoral approach he will take to the Navy.

“I know what it means to be a Catholic priest. I have no idea what it means to be in the military,” he said.

“There’s going to be a lot of openness and willingness on my part to learn and be flexible, to adapt, to inculcate within myself and how I operate, as a priest in the military, in a sense their values and their structure.”

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