Diocesan priest becomes chaplain at 185th

  • Published
  • By By KATIE LEFEBVRE, Globe staff reporter
Raising his right hand and repeating an oath Father Will Vit was sworn in as a chaplain, Jan. 30, at the 185th Air Refueling Wing in Sioux City.

"I, William James Vit, Jr. do solemnly swear," repeated Father Vit, "that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Iowa against all enemies foreign and domestic...that I will faithfully discharge the duties of captain in the Air National Guard of the State of Iowa upon which I am about to enter, so help me God."

Lt. Col. Joe Ascherl conducted the swearing-in ceremony. Ascherl, who was Father Vit's biology teacher at St. Edmond High School in Fort Dodge, was instrumental in helping the priest become a chaplain at the 185th.

"I am proud to have him become part of the guard, as a former teacher and mentor," said Ascherl. "As a Catholic, I look forward to having a Catholic priest visible. As a commander, I know our folks really need the Catholic presence."

During opening remarks, Col. Mark Foreman, vice commander at the 185th, said, "It is a great time for our unit. We finally have one that we can truly call our own. We are happy to have you on board. Thank you for accepting this challenge."

Several Catholic members of the unit were present for the ceremony and offered Father Vit congratulations.

"I am excited," said the new chaplain, who is the administrator at the Cathedral of the Epiphany in Sioux City. "It should be a really interesting journey. I am looking forward to it and getting to know everyone - your names, your stories and your work. I am inspired by what is going on here already."

Chaplain Merrill Muller, one of three Protestant chaplains serving the 185th, pointed out that of the unit's 900 members more than 40 percent are Catholic. Muller is pastor at Wesley United Methodist Church in Sioux City and will be Father Vit's boss at the 185th.

Drill weekends 

As chaplain, Father Vit will be present for each drill weekend, once a month. He will preside at Mass as well as walk among the soldiers and get to know them on a personal level. He wants them to know he is there and available to them.

"I look forward to being able to evangelize people who are looking to be evangelized," said the priest. "Everyone who is involved with the military realizes that they are part of a greater good. To bring God into that is a powerful opportunity. It makes their work and their lives seem that much more grounded in something greater."

Father Vit will also be part of the line wishing personnel well when they are shipped out.
"In civilian ministry, you quite often aren't supposed to interfere with people in the work place," said Chaplain Muller. "In the military, they want chaplains visible in the work places. We are supposed to be visible reminders of God. As American military personnel, we don't just fight and kill. We are responsible to a greater power. We want the visible reminder of the holy."

Going on a mission 

If the military personnel are going on a local mission and there is room for non-mission personnel, there is a chance for the chaplains to go with the personnel.

"We also have the opportunity to deploy to different locations regularly to serve with personnel that are deployed," said Chaplain Muller.

So far, Father Vit has gone on a local flight, a spouse's lift, with unit members' spouses. This is part of a weekend when spouses come to the 185th to see what their husband or wife does. When Father Vit was in flight, he was able to see F16s refueled.

The opportunity to be deployed overseas with a group is frequently an option. Father Vit mentioned that it is a requirement for him to deploy for at least two weeks every year.

"I am going to deploy this coming spring," said Ascherl. "I want to be able to go to confession, go to Mass and receive the sacraments. It is something different for a Catholic to know that when I deploy the sacraments will be there for me. It is a comfort and a spiritual connection I look forward to having when I am over there."

If Father Vit would be deployed overseas, he would go with a unit for 30, 60, 90 or possibly 180 days at a time or possibly longer depending on the circumstances, Ascherl explained. This would be something that would need to be worked out with the bishop and Father Vit's parish.

Two bishops 

There is an Archdiocese of Military Services, so Father Vit answers to Bishop Nickless as well as to the Archbishop of Military Services.

"Everything I do with the 185th is through the Archdiocese of Military Services," said Father Vit. "Every quarter I have to send a report to the Archbishop of Military Services. I also have to get the names right at Mass. When I am at Mass here, it is for Timothy our bishop." 

Becoming chaplain

Father Marvin Boes was the last Catholic priest to serve as a full unit chaplain at the 185th. He served until 1988 when he became an auxiliary chaplain for the next 10 years. Father Boes was replaced by Father Al McCoy, who served as auxiliary chaplain until 2008.

"To have a Catholic priest as part of our unit is monumental," said Ascherl. "It is a spiritual need that is going to now be met."

Father Vit served in the Navy for four years, which helped with the process of him becoming a chaplain at the 185th. He said a lot of "paperwork and patience" were part of the process.

"It was a matter of getting our ducks in a row, filling out the request and waiting for it to be processed," said the priest.

He now has the rank of captain but will be referred to as Chaplain Vit or Chaplain Will.
Father Vit will go to Chaplain School for six weeks. He commented that part of what he will learn is about ministry in a "pluralistic environment. Not everyone is Catholic. I have to be able to meet their needs and meet them where they are at."

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