Father Dave Reeson (left) poses with a group of chaplains preparing for their deployment to Baghdad from Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nevada, Aug. 27, 2008.

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Military Service Offered Priests Lessons in Discipline, Responsibility and Sacrifice

Neither Father Mark Beran nor Father Dave Reeson felt called to be military chaplains. However, both men will tell you that serving as one helped to make them better priests.

“My time as a chaplain will forever remind me of the importance of walking with people during all the stages of their lives,” Father Beran said.

As an Army chaplain, Father Beran assisted military members from a variety of backgrounds. This prepared him well for his current assignment serving the people of the Omaha and Winnebago Tribes.

Further, since many of the soldiers he worked with were young, it also prepared him for his work with college students.

Father Beran had been ordained about two years when, in 2004, Archbishop Elden Curtiss called him. The Nebraska Army National Guard had approached Archbishop Curtiss looking for a priest who could serve as a chaplain, and Father Beran came to mind. Father Beran suspects this was because he was an avid runner so Archbishop Curtiss thought he could pass the physical fitness test.

Father Beran’s younger brother was serving in the Army in Iraq at the time and had been on his mind. He felt God was inviting him to do it. He was sworn in as a Nebraska Army National Guard chaplain in 2004 and served until 2008. Father Beran was stationed in Iraq for a year and was deployed to Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast.

Father Mark Beran after his swearing in as a chaplain at Omaha’s St. Cecilia Cathedral in 2004.

Father Reeson, pastor of St. Robert Bellarmine, served as a chaplain in the Air Force. This is surprising when you consider that his stint in the ROTC as a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln lasted only a day.

“I just needed another college credit, and I thought, ‘I can do this,'” Father Reeson said. “Then I find out, ‘Oh, you have to shave your head. Oh, I have to wear a uniform on campus. I don’t want to do this!’”

Years later, following his ordination, someone from Offutt Air Force Base approached him about being a reserve chaplain. Over time that evolved into a full-time ministry as an Air Force chaplain.

His abbreviated stint in the ROTC might have soured Father Reeson on the military, but the opposite was true.

“I loved being with the military people,” Father Reeson said. “They were very inquisitive about their faith. Maybe because they were going into battle and a little frightened, they thought to themselves, ‘Hey, I need to connect with my roots, come back to the church.’”

Father Beran and Father Reeson are just a few of the current and retired priests of the archdiocese who have proudly served in the U.S. Armed Forces. And not just as chaplains.

Father Carl Zoucha, pastor of Holy Name Catholic Church, served in the Army’s Engineer Regiment in Germany and Fort Benning, Georgia.

Father Zoucha was not called to the priesthood until after he was honorably discharged in 1988 after four years of service. However, his experiences in the Army and the priests he met while serving planted seeds that continue to bear fruit in his priestly ministry to this day.

“The discipline and responsibility that was instilled in me by the Army help me maintain a regular discipline towards prayer and my other responsibilities as a priest,” Father Zoucha said.

It also helped him to better understand the sacrifices soldiers are called upon to make.

As a chaplain, Father Reeson was humbled by those sacrifices. He supported military members who found themselves in hostile situations, thousands of miles from home and separated from their family members for long periods. As it turns out, Father Reeson received as much support as he offered.

“I love veterans,” Father Reeson said. “They were all so supportive of the chaplain. I met people from all over the world and made many friends.”

All three men will tell you that service members are beautiful examples of unselfishness that anyone – including a priest – could learn from.

“The men and women I served while in the Army were incredibly selfless,” Father Beran said. “I saw a great sense of brotherhood, sisterhood in the military. For example, I would visit soldiers in the hospital who were wounded by roadside bombs and their first question was about the well-being of their buddies.”