Arlington Cemetery's Catholic Chaplain Provides Special Ministry

A funeral procession leaves the Old Post Chapel at Fort. Myer and travels slowly through the gate of the adjacent Arlington National Cemetery. It is a clear, cold March day and an Army officer is being buried with full military honors. The Catholic chaplain leads the way, walking ahead of the horses teamed to the caisson holding the casket, in front of the car carrying the bereaved family. At the gravesite, the traditional tributes will be rendered by a military funeral detail, with the chaplain administering the Church’s Rite of Funerals and then presenting the U.S. flag to the next of kin. Catholic Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Joseph Goudreau serves in this special capacity at Fort Myer. As the only Catholic installation chaplain on base, he helps lay to rest those who have served their country and is pastor of the Fort Myer parish. "It is a very fruitful ministry," he said, and one which he enjoys both as a military officer and a priest. He has been in the Army for 29 years and has been stationed at Fort Myer for almost three years. Originally from the Diocese of Portland, Maine, his current assignment is with the U.S. Military Services Archdiocese, based in Hyattsville, Md., under the direction of Archbishop Edwin O’Brien. "We appreciate the close relationship we have with the Arlington Diocese," said Father Goudreau. "They’re very good to us." On a typical day at Arlington Cemetery, of the 25 to 27 funerals that are held, nine of them are Catholic. If the deceased were Army personnel, Father Goudreau will be involved. If they were from another branch of the military, other priests will come in to perform the duties. Father Martin McGuill, pastor at St. Luke Church in McLean, is a clonel in the Air Force reserve and an Arlington diocesan priest. He performs many of the Air Force Catholic funerals at Arlington. "We always learn a lot from the families here," Father McGuill said. "They teach us how to mourn, because they do so with such dignity." Father Goudreau does not determine who is eligible to be buried at Arlington, nor what military funeral rites they will receive. The day before the funeral, he receives the list of upcoming ceremonies. At that point, he places a call to the family for information on the deceased, so he can personalize his homily. Just prior to the funeral Mass, he meets with them in the family room. There can be either a lone widow or a church full of people for a funeral. Not all of these include chapel services, Father Goudreau said. Those to be interred at the cemetery arrive from all over. Many are from other parishes, and have had a funeral Mass offered in their hometown churches. If they are local, often their pastor or a parish priest comes to celebrate Mass and then the military chaplain goes to the graveside with them. There is a shortage of priests in the military archdiocese, said Father Goudreau. They are down to 107 Catholic chaplains in the Army, where there should be 250. A group known as "The Arimatheans," commissioned volunteer Catholic laypeople of the military chapel communities in the National Capital Region of Washington, assist at the funeral Masses. Founded in 1979 by Army MDW Staff Chaplain (Col.) Walter Wichmanowski, the group is directed by Jack Sullivan, who has been with them since its inception. Composed mostly of retired male and female military personnel, they perform many functions. They serve as acolytes, cantors, commentators, eucharistic ministers, lectors, sacristans and ushers in up to 300 funerals a year. Comprised of 42 members, they are divided into five teams. They’ll soon be commemorating their 19th anniversary. "It’s a very gratifying and wonderful ministry," said Sullivan. Copyright ?1997 Arlington Catholic Herald, Inc. All rights reserved.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016