A Veteran and a Priest: How My Military Experience Affects My Priesthood

Today we celebrate Veteran’s Day, a time when we honor those who have served in the United States Armed Forces. Scripture tells us, No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends and today we pay tribute to those who have been willing to risk their lives in the service of their country and their loved ones.

To offer a Catholic perspective on Veteran’s Day, Father David Jenuwine stopped by Morning Air® to share how his experience in the Navy has affected his life as a priest. Now the parochial vicar of St. Vincent de Paul parish in Petaluma, CA, Father Jenuwine was a late vocation, having spent years both working in the corporate world and serving in the United States Navy. Fr. Jenuwine shared that there are a number of skills and insights he gained in the military that have transferred into his life as a priest.

“When you’re in the military, they put you through what everyone knows as Boot Camp,” he said. “And the whole premise is to break you down to build you up. But what they’re breaking down is not who you are. What they’re breaking down are your preconceptions of what’s your gang, what’s your group, what’s your clique, and they put you forward with a mindset of everybody is Navy blue. At least that’s how they put it in the Navy.”

He explained that once your preconceptions are broken down, it is easier to see your mission, your role, and your priorities more clearly. He said his training was designed, “to teach you to recognize that there’s a bigger picture, and as a priest in the Church that’s kind of really been what’s driven me toward evangelization and to what I call high-energy priesthood. That the desk is your last resort, the telephone is your last resort, that your feet and your face and your hands are your first resort. … Whether the people are the elderly at a nursing home, children at a school, or just the morning crowd at a coffee shop – the presence of a priest in all of these areas is important.”

One aspect of his military service that Fr. Jenuwine is grateful for is being put in the position where giving up was not an option, the only way was forward. He shared how the discipline and perseverance that was necessary in the military is also so necessary in the spiritual life.

“Prior to the military, in my small town rural school I was one of the top students. I won scholarships and things like that,” he said. “In the military I found out I wasn’t the biggest, the strongest, the smartest. And oftentimes we stop right there. We think if I’m not the biggest, smartest, strongest, best at something then I won’t do it. Well, in the military there was no choice.”

Fr. Jenuwine shared that there was one training exercise that he consistently failed at, and it got to the point where he only had one more chance to pass or he would not be allowed to finish the aviation program. He did pass, but the process taught him a lesson that has stuck with him to this day.

“I remember the instructor saying, ‘It wasn’t pretty, but at least you passed,'” Fr. Jenuwine said. “So to recognize that it is in that perseverance. It is in keeping on keeping on. … You don’t have to be the best Catholic at this very moment. The saints were not the saints because they were the valedictorians or because they won the blue ribbon. The saints are the saints because they kept on trying. That’s what we see in the lives of the saints is a perseverance. And it’s that same perseverance that I learned in the military. Which  is you’re not here for the short-term test. You’re here for the long haul. And so we need to re-establish that beautiful virtue of perseverance in our lives and in our spiritual lives.”

Please join us in praying for all of our veterans today, and listen to the full conversation with Father David Jenuwine below:

Morning Air can be heard weekdays from 6:00 – 9:00 a.m. Eastern/3:00 – 6:00 a.m. Pacific on Relevant Radio® and the Relevant Radio App.

Stephanie Foley serves as a Digital Media Producer at Relevant Radio®. She is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where she studied journalism, and she has worked in Catholic radio for 12 years. Stephanie is a wife, a mother of three boys, and in her free time she enjoys reading, running, and really good coffee. You can find more of Stephanie’s writing at relevantradio.com and on the free Relevant Radio mobile app.