Virginia Ann Mervar at the CCO Rise Up Conference at the recruitment table in 2020. Photo courtesy Virginia Ann Mervar

Military chaplain credits providence for her call

By  Peter Wilson, Youth Speak News
  • March 2, 2022

“Love has surprised and sent me.”

In these words, Virginia-Ann Mervar, 26, introduced her vocation story during a Theology on Tap online talk hosted by the Archdiocese of Toronto’s Office of Catholic Youth.

Mervar’s Feb. 21 talk, titled “Patience and Perseverance: On the Way to Military Chaplaincy,” emphasized the importance of discerning and pursuing God’s will.

Growing up, Mervar said her faith life was not strong, but that changed in her final year of high school when a friend invited her on a week-long Catholic retreat called “Gospel Roads.”

“God pierced my heart,” she said. “The only words I had to summarize that experience were, ‘God is calling me to live in relationship with Him. He has a plan for my life and it’s going to be the best plan despite what suffering it may bring.’ ”

Everything changed for Mervar. She began practising her faith and seeking spiritual wisdom. In 2013, she began working towards a Bachelor of Arts in Christianity and Culture at the University of Toronto and a Bachelor of Education from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

All the while, she attended daily Mass, regular adoration, begging God to make her vocation clear.

But God did not begin revealing His plan until her final semester.

While attending Catholic Christian Outreach’s 2018 Rise Up Conference, Mervar heard testimony from a Rwandan genocide survivor about the importance of praying the rosary. She was on a mission to find a free rosary among the conference exhibition tables.

“And the only table giving out free rosaries happened to have a military backpack on it,” she said.

Mervar obtained the rosary and a pamphlet about military chaplaincy for her roommate in the military.

“I thought, ‘I’ll give this to her so she can see a chaplain while she’s doing her military duties,’ ” she said.

Later that night, she turned on Fr. Brown Mysteries. As she dozed off, a line of Fr. Brown’s dialogue reached her ears: “I learned this as a military chaplain.”

It shook Mervar awake, both physically and spiritually. She heard God’s call and set her mind to answering Him.

Several months later, she began her application to the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). Hoping to become a lay pastoral associate through the military’s education program for chaplains, she began studies at Toronto’s Regis College.

But her plan came crashing down. She received a notice saying that her military application could not continue due to her food allergies.

“I was crushed,” she said. “I couldn’t think of it any other way than an analogy like they were flirting with me, they were about to propose, and then they just abandoned me because something was wrong with me.”

She persevered, and in August 2020, Mervar was sworn into the CAF as a Lieutenant and an entrant in the chaplaincy education program. She spent the next year completing her Masters of Divinity and then began her two-year pastoral internship. After completing the first six months at St. Basil’s Parish in Toronto, she moved to her current assignment at Our Lady of Sorrows Parish.

Looking back, Mervar said her experience of waiting for God’s plan to unfold changed her entire outlook on life.

“I couldn’t believe I held on to a prayer for two-and-a-half years and I also couldn’t believe God answered such a big prayer,” she said. “I thought that since I could be that patient for something like that, then I can be patient with everything else in life. ... It wasn’t just that receiving this call to ministry was a gift, but discerning it and taking so long pursuing it ended up bearing such good fruit of patience and endurance.”

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