Summary of today’s show: Fr. Tom Foley has embarked on a new phase of his priesthood 26 years after his ordination by becoming an Air Force chaplain. Scot Landry and Fr. Chip Hines talk to Fr. Foley about his decision to answer the “call within a call”, the process of moving from the Archdiocese of Boston to the chaplains corps, and the important service provided by priest chaplains to our men and women serving our country all over the world.
Listen to the show:
Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Chip Hines
Today’s guest(s): Fr. Thomas Foley
Links from today’s show:
Today’s topics: Fr. Thomas Foley, Military Chaplain
1st segment: Scot Landry and Fr. Chip Hines talked about how the summer is going for Fr. Chip and his parishes in Wrentham and Plainville. He said his parishes have been offering some summer programs to combat the drop off that many parishes experience in attendance and participation. Fr. Chip said he spends his summer mainly with his parents in Plymouth.
Scot said as the show airs he’s going to a 20-year college reunion in Pittsburgh.
Today’s guest, Fr. Tom Foley, left his post as Secretary for Parish Life and Leadership about a month ago to enter the chaplain corps for the US Air Force.
2nd segment: Scot welcomed Fr. Tom to the show. He said Fr. Foley’s role as secretary was one of the toughest jobs in the Pastoral Center. He deals with a lot of the materials that eventually end up on the Vicar Generals. Cardinal Seán gave him a few weeks for vacation and retreat before going on to the Air Force.
Fr. Roley was secretary for 4 years. He oversaw clergy personnel matters, permanent diaconate, vocations office, Clergy Funds, Regina Cleri and many more. Fr. Foley said each of the offices were staffed by great people so that the work is done by many hands. Much of his work was working with priests. He noted that the staff of the Clergy Funds, caring for the priests’ health, have done much to stabilize those funds. He noted the work of Deacon Dan Burns and the formation of permanent deacons. Another office if Pastoral Planning, which is a top priority for the Archdiocese now, but we always have to be planning for the future. His role was to monitor and orchestrate a whole spectrum of the priests.
Fr. Chip asked about the fun and edifying memories of his office. Fr. Tom mentioned visits to the three seminaries, engaging with the seminarians, which is a hopeful experience. The quality of the men coming into the seminaries is outstanding. He thinks of the priest appreciation dinner we’ve had the past three years. No one expected the turnout at that annual dinner, which is not just a fundraiser for the Clergy Funds, but has also become a chance for the people of the archdiocese to pour out their love for their priests. He said no one expected such an outpouring.
Scot recalled the priests’ convocations. He said there have been at least 3 or maybe more.
Fr. Tom said the priests are ordained to serve the people of God and to be there for the people in all times of sadness and joy. But someone has to take care of the priests too, which is the responsibility of the bishop. As Cardinal Sean’s helpers, they made it a top priority to visit the priests when they were sick, or to visit the retired priests at home or those living in Regina Cleri retirement home. The purpose is to care for those who are caring for others. The Clergy Services Group includes highly respected priests, both retired and active, to make sure they are available to priests at any time, so as to be present to them to be healthy and strong for the people. Fr. Chip said he had surgery a few years ago and was the recipient of that love and attention while he was recovering at Regina Cleri. Fr. Chip having lunch with the retired priests was a highlight of his stay, especially the stories of the old days. Fr. Tom said the seminarians talk about how much they look forward to visiting Regina Cleri.
It’s an experience of sharing one generation’s wisdom to another. It’s truly a home of priests who look out for each other.
Scot said Fr. Tom served in parish ministry until 2008. He asked him about the adjustment from parish to administrative work. Fr. Tom said it’s an eye-opener, but St. Paul talks about the gifts of administration. It’s all about helping the cardinal to lead the Church. They try to be good stewards of the resources of the Church as best they can, to give the best advice to the Cardinal they can. It’s a lot of meetings, on the phone, at the desk. There’s a lot of detail work. Fr. Chip said much of the sensitive material that comes across Fr. Foley’s desk could only be seen by a priest and it must have been difficult to deal with.
Scot said Fr. Foley was often one of the leading celebrants at the Pastoral Center’s 8:15am Mass, which saw a handful of employees on a constant basis. Fr. Foley said the 12:05 pm Mass is a blessing, which sees so many people come to it, especially from outside the Pastoral Center. But he often found the noontime hour problematic, especially when at meetings. So they started the 8:15 Mass, which mimics parish Masses. It’s great to start the day that way.
3rd segment: Scot asked Fr. Foley what led him to ask Cardinal Seán about going to become an Air Force chaplain. Fr. Tom says chaplains speak about the call within the call. Chaplains are ordained and serve in parishes, but at some point they have experienced another call to serve as a military chaplain. Some of his close priest friends are or have been military chaplains. He’s been inspired and edified by them. It’s natural for priests to have an interest in military chaplaincy because as celibates it’s easier for them to pick up at a moment’s notice. He said there’s a lot of stress of military families, long deployments, many of them are young adults. There is a need for someone to support and care for them. A priest-chaplain is a reminder of home. He’s a connection to family and home.
Scot asked how many Catholics in the Air Force and priest-chaplains. Fr. Tom said about 25% of the 330,000 active duty members are Catholic, plus any dependents. There are about 250 chaplains in the Air Force of all faiths. There are only 60 Catholic priests on active duty in the Air Force today. That’s 60 priests serving over 75,000 airmen plus their families.
Scot said he could drive 20 miles in any direction, he could pass 15 Catholic churches in each direction. But in our military some of our service members could go a month or more without access to the sacraments. Fr. Foley said Catholic chaplains are only assigned to the largest bases in the US and take turns being deployed to the combat zones to serve the troops who have been waiting for them. They hear of the great desire of the Catholic service members to see a chaplain. The priests are stretched thin, especially in deployed situations. Fr. Chip said his brother was in the Navy for five years. He met a chaplain on his brother’s ship, who told him that there’d never been a Catholic chaplain on their ship and they only get to go to Mass maybe once per month.
Fr. Foley said those in the military have the constitutional right to the free exercise of religion and the military is determined they can exercise that right. The chaplains are there to serve primarily their own faith group, but they’re also chaplains for everyone in the military and will do everything they can to help them whatever their faith. The chaplains are willing to travel everywhere and work very hard for their people.
Scot asked what was the attraction of the Air Force over the other services. Fr. Tom said his friends in other services will listen attentively to his answer. One of his closest friends spent 20 years in the Navy, mainly with the Marine Corps. He ‘s worked closely the past couple of years with priests who have been Air Force chaplains so he got to know it better than the others. Having been ordained 26 years already, he didn’t know if he could even be accepted and talking to the Air Force it seemed possible with them.
Scot asked him about the process to prepare himself for acceptance. Fr. Foley said he’s still finalizing all the details and paperwork. Most the chaplains who enter are in their 30s to 40s. Being over 50 is unusual. He had an age waiver from the Secretary of the Air Force to even apply. He had to travel to an Air Force base in New Jersey to interview with a Wing Chaplain. He had to go before a board. Fill out all kinds of paperwork. It’s quite a process and takes several months. This was all after he’d gone to the Cardinal to express his desire to explore it.
Fr. Foley said he will go through 4 weeks of officer training. In his first year he will go through 12-week chaplain school. Then he will get his first assignment at a base in the continental United States. From there to any American base in the world, including deployments to any active deployment area. For chaplains the basic commitment is three years. They get fitness reviews every year.
Fr. Chip said Fr. Tom looks like he’s in great shape and working on all those fitness requirements.
Scot said the Archdiocese of Boston sends some of its finest priests to serve in the military and it’s a longstanding tradition. It’s not easy for an archbishop to send one of his episcopal vicars off to the military instead of putting him in charge of one of our largest parishes. Cardinal Seán recognizes the need in the military and we have to do our fair share. Fr. Tom said Cardinal Cushing had been an Army National Guard chaplain as a young priest and perhaps even continued after he became a bishop. These young men and women are in harm’s way. They are all-volunteer and highly trained to go defend our freedom anywhere in the world. If a chaplain can be there to help them, that’s the least we can be doing for them. The Church wants to be wherever her people are. The Church is the mission of Jesus. We are missionary by nature and outgoing. In this way, we want to go with our men and women in uniform.
Scot asked how Fr. Tom has been prepared for combat situations? Do chaplains get trained with weapons. Fr. Tom said chaplains do not carry a weapon as noncombatants. He said chaplain friends told him that when you’re deployed in forward operating areas, you are assigned a bodyguard. They do go wherever the military goes.
Fr. Chip talked of a friend deployed in Iraq who said that after the company commander he was the most protected member of the unit.
Scot said diocesan priests are usually assigned within an hour’s drive of their family. How do you prepare for the transition to be sofa away from family? Fr. Tom said after he got the green light from Cardinal Seán, he shared this with his family, including his brother and sister. He’s received lots of love and support and he thinks his nephews are probably proud of him. Wherever the Lord sends us, we never go alone. We hold each other in prayer. Plus today we have means of communication that people never dreamed of in the past. Fr. Tom also said the airplanes fly both ways and people can come and visit.
Scot wondered how he expects serving as a base chaplain to be similar to being a parish priest. Fr. Tom said the way a chapel works on an Air Force base is very much like a diocesan parish, with a staff, RCIA, religious education, and the like. Having spent 22 years in a parish that’s what he’s used to. It’s a chapel-based ministry in the Air Force and families are very much used to that.
He expects that he will go at least briefly to a base where there’s another Catholic priests. Archbishop Broglio of the Military Archdiocese said we are 1-deep, meaning one priest deep on the line.
Scot asked the connection to the Archdiocese for Military Services. Fr. Tom said a chaplain is an Air Force officer and reports up that chain of command. He’s only able to be a chaplain if he’s endorsed by the Archdiocese for Military Services and the priestly faculties are granted by that archbishop. So as far as the Church is concerned, you come under that Archdiocese. This is a Lend-Lease situation, where the archbishop of Boston lends his priests to the archbishop of the military.
An important aspect of the chaplain’s work is helping the young people who come to faith while in the military.They do a lot of baptisms, receiving into the Church, sacraments of initiation, plus lots of counseling.
Fr. Tom said he asks people to pray for peace, for security of our country, for all those who serve our country. Those prayers are a tremendous consolation.
Fr. Tom said about 12 or 15 priests of the archdiocese of Boston are currently serving on active duty in the military.