By Fr. Bill Kneemiller
For The Catholic Messenger
Here I am in Fort Knox, Ky., at the Summer ROTC Academy, as I have another active duty call-up with the military for three months. Every summer, from June through August, close to 10,000 college-age officer candidates (around 3,000 cadets each month) show up here to train for a direct commission in the Army Reserve or National Guard. I have the task of offering field Masses in this environment of an Officer Boot Camp. I was directed by the senior chaplain here: “Chaplain Kneemiller, do not sit in an office but go out to the field where the soldiers are and conduct Catholic Masses.”
Day to day activities offering field Masses
I am on the cadre staff here and typically go out to the woods or a firing range where the cadets are doing their training. Thousands of cadets come here each month, so we chaplains have many companies and groups to cover.
For some of the entry-level cadets, this training is their first intense time away from home and it is a far cry from the routine of college classes. For some, it is a time to rediscover their Catholic faith as they struggle with long days starting at 4 a.m. and intense physical training. I offer to hear confessions before and after each Mass. For some, participating in the Mass and reconciliation is much like a conversion experience; they draw on their Catholic faith as a source of strength.
The cathedral in the forest
When religious services are offered to cadets during field training, to keep it simple, two services are offered: A general Protestant service and a Roman Catholic Mass. For me, it is interesting to see our Protestant brothers and sisters worshipping in one service. However, one Christian denomination — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) — is not comfortable with the general Protestant service and has its own readings and service.
When I serve out in the field, often the Mass will be held in a clearing in the middle of a forest. I find something with which to construct an altar on the spot, such as a tree trunk or a water cooler or two, and then put an altar cloth over it to give it some dignity. Usually, several dozen soldiers arrive for Mass. I typically serve in the same area with a Protestant chaplain who will offer a concurrent general Protestant service, so we have to find a suitable place that gives us some privacy for each service. A few hours before the services the Protestant chaplain and I announce the schedule to groups of soldiers at the training site or find them in the woods. We ourselves do a little tracking!
The popularity of the Holy Land Military Rosary
I brought about 100 military rosaries made with the olive wood cross from the Holy Land. This supply lasted only a week. There is such a demand for these rosaries that we really need a rosary factory to meet the demand. Since we’ve begun to lay the foundation for such a factory in Haiti, I asked the SERVEHaiti medical leaders to help with that foundational work on their June trip.
In the meantime, I and other Catholic chaplains need help to get Holy Land Military Rosaries to soldiers. If you are the head of a rosary group, please consider making these olive wood crucifix rosaries.
One thing that surprises people is the reasonable cost of supplies for each olive wood rosary — $2.40. The cost is so reasonable because we purchase thousands of crucifixes from Catholics living in Bethlehem. All the information and instructions are on our web site www.holylandmilitaryrosary.org.
I am also asking more Knights of Columbus councils to help fund their local rosary groups to make rosaries for the military and for school children. In the past year we’ve had a couple of KC auctions which we called “Attic Treasure and Farm Implement Auction.” The Holy Land Military Rosary organization now has 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status which helps us to fund the Iowa rosary group efforts. Simply email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if interested.
(Fr. Bill Kneemiller is chaplain at the Kahl Home and parochial vicar at St. Paul the Apostle Parish, both in Davenport.)