Priest prepares for new mission

Fr. Samuel Schneider receives an Inspiring Challenge Coin from retired Navy Colonel Claire Zajac as part of the ceremony of his official commissioning into the U.S. Navy as a chaplain. Lt. Commander Dayton Nelson, who has known Fr. Schneider for years, received his oath and shared words of praise, thanks and challenge. (Submitted photo)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

Fr. Samuel Schneider is one of a select few to have answered the call within a call, the vocation within a vocation – that of being a priest and a military chaplain.

The Rhinelander native, who has a brother also in the Navy, Petty Officer Third Class William Schneider, transferred into college seminary from the U.S. Naval Academy. After earning his bachelor’s degree and moving on to major seminary in 2013, he entered the chaplaincy candidate program.

Fr. Schneider was ordained in 2017; his education was co-sponsored by the Diocese of Superior and the Archdiocese for the Military Services. His three-year pastoral period in the Diocese of Superior is up, and he left in September for chaplaincy training on base in Newport, Rhode Island.

On Aug. 28 at St. Patrick Parish in Hudson – Fr. Schneider’s teaching parish during four years of seminary – he was officially commissioned into the U.S. Navy as a chaplain.

During the ceremony, Lt. Commander Dayton Nelson expressed gratitude to the Diocese of Superior from more than 330,000 sailors, 200,000 Marines and all the U.S. Coast Guardsmen.

“Thank you for letting us have your pastor,” he said. “They’re hard to come by, and Sam’s a good one.”

The Lt. Commander noted that he and Fr. Schneider have been “checking in” with each other for seven years.

“I saw him develop at seminary … I really saw a man of God,” he added. “I’m excited that he’s joining the chaplaincy.”

In October of 2019, the Vocations Office of the Archdiocese for the Military Services reported that “since the time of 9/11, the active-duty roster (of chaplains) has shriveled from more than 400 to fewer than 200.”

While 25 percent of the military is Catholic, fewer than 8 percent of the active-duty chaplain corps are Catholic priests. That amounts approximately to one priest per 1,800 active duty service members, not including their families.

That said, according to Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, perhaps the largest source of American priestly vocations is the military. Their studies have shown that 4 to 10 percent of priests ordained in the U.S. served in the armed forces and up to 20 percent come from military families.

Nelson assured, “Sam is not gonna be pushing papers.”

The Lt. Commander said some try to escape their problems by joining the military.

“But they follow us,” he added. “Sometimes we need an adult in the room to help us untangle the mess.”

He affirmed that Fr. Schneider will be walking alongside sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen and their families, “as Jesus did, he lived with them.”

“Sam has that heart,” he said.

Directing himself to the new chaplain, Nelson said, “You’re gonna have some really great days … have fun and enjoy.

“But you’re also going to have really rotten days,” he added, referring specifically to losing sailors and having to notify families of those losses.

“I can’t think of a better person to do the hard stuff than a man of the cross. On those days, I want you to remember this day,” he said, “because you’re called to this … this is a mission field.”

Fr. Schneider shared how “extremely grateful” he felt.

There was “part of me when I left the naval academy that never wanted to go back, but I’m grateful that I am,” he said, and shared his excitement and readiness for the opportunities before him.

After the priest took his oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America and discharge his duties, Lt. Commander Nelson congratulated Fr. Schneider with a fist bump and introduced the Navy’s newest chaplain.

After the commissioning, retired Col. Claire Zajac, U.S. Army Reserve, presented the priest with a traditional Inspiring Challenge Coin to boost morale, identify allegiance and express gratitude.

On the front of the coin is the image of a warrior wearing the armor of God, displaying two shields, with the letters “RHW,” which stand for “return with honor.” Each individual piece of armor is shown on the back of the coin.

The newly commissioned chaplain invited those present to end with a prayer, “Lord we give you thanks for this day and we pray in a special way for all those defending the United States, who are seeking to bring about a greater freedom, liberty and justice for all.

“May you keep them safe and also whole,” he continued. “For those who have suffered difficulties, struggle and trauma, that there might be healing through those around them.”

He concluded the prayer by petitioning for all the families who have lost loved ones and for those who are in service away from home.

Fr. Samuel will report to his first assignment as chaplain at Yokosuka U. S. Naval Base in Japan after spending Thanksgiving with his family.

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