‘To be a man of God’

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Deacon Jason Burchell's grandfather served in World War II and would tell him stories of piloting a B-24 Liberator over Italy. It was heady stuff that stayed with him all the way through seminary.

"I looked up to him," he said. "I wanted to fly."

Things didn't work out entirely as planned.

On June 8, Burchell will join seven other ordinandi at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington to be ordained a Catholic priest.

Deacon Burchell was born Feb. 1, 1980, and raised in Charlottesville. He attended Catholic middle school and developed a love of athletics and sports. After graduation from high school he entered James Madison University in Harrisonburg to study kinesiology and sports management.

Inspired by his grandfather, he planned to go to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis to live out his desire to fly, but he changed his mind.

After college he worked on a cruise ship with Royal Caribbean for a while. He had been a devout Catholic, but his life changed when he went on board the ship. There was no Catholic Mass.

"I never missed Mass until the cruise ship," said Deacon Burchell.

Life on board ship was hectic, visiting dozens of countries in just a few months. After about five months he tired of the life and returned to Virginia to sell cars at his father's dealership.

Deacon Burchell said he was good at selling cars, but something was missing.

He had a girlfriend, and he returned to James Madison to earn a master's degree in sports administration and coaching. He went to work in Richmond as a YMCA aquatic director. During this time he broke up with his girlfriend.

But a random email from an old acquaintance changed his life.

"I hadn't seen the guy in years," he said.

The email was an advertisement for the military chaplaincy.

When Deacon Burchell saw the ad he realized he'd been running from a vocation for a long time.

"I decided to take (chaplaincy training) seriously," he said.

He went on a discernment retreat with the military archdiocese and realized then that this was what he wanted, "to be a man of God."

"I've been trying since (I was) 12 years old to figure out what I wanted to do," said Deacon Burchell.

He will enter the chaplaincy after three years of service as a parish priest in the Arlington Diocese. It's an agreement between Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde and the Archdiocese for the Military Services. He'll serve as a chaplain and Naval officer for at least a three-year tour. After three years, the bishop will either extend his chaplaincy for another three years or assign him to a diocesan parish.

"I've given this a lot of thought," he said. "I can serve the Lord in this capacity."

His family is behind his vocation and will be there for his ordination.

"Mom and Dad could not have been more supportive," he said.

His brother Joe is an Air Force pilot and his sister Julie is married to an Army Judge Advocate General officer, so he's continuing the family military tradition.

With his ordination day getting closer he said he has no doubts.

"I'm ready," he said. "I'm excited to fulfill His will."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2013