Diocese of Owensboro and Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, co-sponsored seminarian Conrad Jaconette, and fellow seminarian AJ Houston (co-sponsored from the Diocese of Knoxville) with Fr. Matthew Gray, vocation director for the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA. COURTESY OF CONRAD JACONETTE
In preparing to become military chaplain, seminarian hopes to help faithful ‘make sense of the good and evil in the world’
BY ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD, THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC
Conrad Jaconette always had a desire to serve in the military.
But it was only after he had entered the seminary that he learned about the option for a twofold calling: serving as a military chaplain with the U.S. Air Force.
“I’m 100% certain that my vocational call to the priesthood is embedded in both those realms,” he said.
“My goal was to go to medical school through the Air Force,” said Jaconette, who is in third theology at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in southern Indiana.
Jaconette, whose official title is 2nd Lt. Chaplain Candidate, is in the unique position of being cosponsored by both the Diocese of Owensboro, Ky., and the Archdiocese for the Military Services, U.S.A. This means the diocese and archdiocese split his seminary costs.
Currently he is the only seminarian in Kentucky with this arrangement, and only one of two seminarians at Saint Meinrad doing so.
“Being cosponsored with the AMS (Archdiocese for the Military Services) allows me to become an officer in the military before I get ordained,” said Jaconette, who spoke with The Western Kentucky Catholic on Aug. 8. “I sign a contract with the AMS and the Diocese of Owensboro that I will go to seminary with the diocese, and after I get ordained will spend three calendar years serving in parishes around the diocese.”
After that, “I will go on a five-year active-duty contract with the AMS,” he said.
Jaconette explained that the AMS is “for” the military – not an agency within the military.
In fact, the archdiocese serves as the sole endorser (certifier) of Roman Catholic chaplains to the United States government. A Roman Catholic priest cannot serve within the U.S. Military as a priest without the express permission of the archdiocese.
According to milarch.org, the archdiocese’s official website, as of 2020, 204 Roman Catholic priests were endorsed by the archdiocese for active-duty military service: “These chaplains serve on loan from their diocese of incardination or religious order/society and are released for a term of military service. Chaplains never become members of the archdiocese; instead, they always remain subject to their home bishop/religious superiors.”
Jaconette, whose home parish is St. Joseph in Bowling Green, said that of the people who make up the military, “almost 40-50% at any base are Catholic” – hence the fundamental need for Catholic chaplains who can provide Mass and the sacraments.
“You need to have a priest there who can help make sense in the chaos of the good and evil in the world,” he said, adding that he has a heart for the needs of Air Force members: “I chose the Air Force because of the high suicide rates and mental health concerns.”
Plus, “the only person who has 100% confidentiality are chaplains,” said Jaconette. “It’s so crucial because firstly, there are confessional needs, but also it gives active military members the opportunity to talk and process things without any chain of command concerns.”
Jaconette said chaplains are meant to serve all military personnel, even those who do not share their faith tradition.
“I will be doing this for all airmen, even those who are not Catholics,” he said.
Jaconette said it is not uncommon for a priest to visit a military base a couple times a week to serve Catholic members. But as a chaplain, he gets to delve into and become part of the culture of the Air Force.
“A Catholic priest chaplain helps them go deeper and they can trust you more quickly,” he said. “And you can learn to suffer with them too because you aren’t exempted from anything.”
Jaconette said being cosponsored “does add a lot more to your plate; you have more responsibilities than ordinary seminarians.”
Jaconette said he is “extremely thankful and honored” that Bishop William F. Medley “recognizes the importance of military chaplaincy” – and is permitting him to become a chaplain.
Every summer, Jaconette goes on a chaplain candidate tour, in which his supervisor assigns them to a specific base with a specific chaplain group.
This summer he was at a military base whose mission was a strike force. Tagging along with a priest chaplain, Jaconette learned how “the chaplain is one of the only people who can experience those different aspects” of life on base.
On any given day, he said he could find himself at a commanders’ meeting, participating in Mass, visiting crews on maintenance jobs, or meeting with a mom of five children whose husband is deployed, and who is hoping to get her children set up with religious education.
“They’re all searching for that higher calling,” he said. “The Catholic priest fits like a glove in that situation. You can offer them truth and knowledge to understand that there is goodness, and more than just chaos in this world.”
Originally printed in the September 2023 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.