Fr. Guy Chapdelaine has been appointed Chaplain General of the Canadian military. He assumes the post in August. Photo by Alan Hustak

Military’s new top chaplain to go on recruiting drive

By  Alan Hustak, Catholic Register Special
  • May 24, 2015

The Canadian military’s first Roman Catholic Chaplain General in a decade says his top priority is to recruit more chaplains.

“It is increasingly difficult to find soldiers who are willing to become chaplains, especially difficult in Western Canada,” said Fr. Guy Chapdelaine, who will become Canada’s Chaplain General in August.

“Fewer and fewer students are studying theology, and fewer and fewer of those who are want to join the Canadian Armed Forces.”

Chapdelaine becomes not only the first Roman Catholic to hold the post in 10 years, but just the second francophone since Catholic and Protestant chaplaincies were integrated in 1995. He replaces Chaplain General John Fletcher, an openly gay Anglican priest.

Chapdelaine said 70 per cent of current Roman Catholic military chaplains will retire in the next 10 years. Another challenge is to respond to the increasingly multi-faith dimension of the military.

“It is important that training programs for non-Christian religions be developed as well in order to prepare future candidates for the chaplaincy,” he said. “Given the demographics of the country, I believe the Christian presence in the military will diminish and more and more faith groups will join the Royal Canadian Chaplain Service. This will probably be a better reflection of Canadian society.”

Chapdelaine will be responsible for the direction of 400 chaplains of various denominations, including about 80 Roman Catholic priests in the regular forces and 40 in the militia. His role, he said, is not to proselytize.

“The chaplain is there to care for all, even for those who have no faith,” he said. “The job is to make sure the spiritual needs of soldiers in a pluralistic society are met. A  lot of the work is not sacramental. It is to befriend soldiers and listen to them. It is basically a ministry of presence.”

The eldest of three children in a metal worker’s family, Chapdelaine joined the 52nd company, now the 52nd Field Ambulance Company, when he was 17. He decided to become a priest after an army buddy was killed in a car accident and his unit was consoled by his chaplain.

Chapdelaine studied for the priesthood in Sherbrooke and obtained his Master’s degree in Theology and Biblical Studies at Laval University. He was ordained in Sherbrooke and became a chaplain the same day. He has served as the Land Forces Quebec area chaplain and was deployed to Kosovo and has ministered in Afghanistan.  

Chapdelaine will be promoted to brigadier general and will be installed as Chaplain General in a ceremony at the Beechwood National Cemetery in Ottawa. He will preside over Remembrance Day ceremonies at the National War Memorial in Ottawa.

(Hustak is a contributing editor at VilleMarieOnline.com.)

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