Bringing the sacraments to those who serve

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The day Deacon James C. Hinkle received the first sacrament of initiation was, in a sense, the day he was initiated into the Navy. It was Jesuit Father John Francis Laboon, a Navy chaplain with a ship named after him (the USS Laboon), who administered the sacrament of baptism to the infant.

Following his ordination to the priesthood June 7 and the required three to five years of service in the Arlington Diocese, Deacon Hinkle hopes to express his love of Christ and the Navy through the military chaplaincy. In that role, he'll be able to "bring the sacraments to the men and women in uniform who do without," he said in a recent email.

Born Feb. 22, 1980, in Portsmouth, Deacon Hinkle has naval service throughout his family tree. His maternal grandfather was a vice admiral in the Navy, his paternal grandfather was a chief in the Navy, and his father was a rear admiral. Deacon Hinkle said the exceptional integrity of all three men fueled both his desire to enter the Navy and his eventual vocation.

Like many military families, Deacon Hinkle moved with his parents, Meredith Anne and James B. Hinkle, and his twin sister from coast to coast, living in Norfolk, Annandale and Fairfax; Coronado, Calif.; and Mayport, Fla.

He graduated from W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax, feeling his first tug toward the priesthood as a 17-year-old during religious education class at St. Ambrose Church in Annandale.

He continued to feel the call even as he headed off to South Bend, Ind., for the University of Notre Dame and its Navy ROTC program.

"I wrestled with the decision on whether to leave the NROTC program at ND to enter the Holy Cross seminary there," he said. But after one year at the university, he incurred a commitment to the Navy and decided to place vocational discernment behind him.

Following his 2002 graduation with a bachelor's of business administration in management information systems, he studied nuclear engineering in Charleston, S.C., and continued his training in Groton, Conn.

In 2004, Deacon Hinkle was deployed on the USS Connecticut, a fast-attack submarine, in support of the "global war on terror."

A senior midshipman at Notre Dame on 9/11, Deacon Hinkle said he and his classmates had felt a "strong willingness and readiness" to serve their country. To be able to deploy in support of the war on terror was a privilege, he said.

In 2006, he received a shore assignment as an expert on Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles - long-range, subsonic cruise missiles - at the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center in Fallon, Nev.

Located in the desert, Fallon was a place where he could set aside time for vocational discernment. That discernment led to his decision to enter Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., in 2008.

Two years later, Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde invited him to study in Rome, where he lived and received formation at the Pontifical North American College and studied at the Dominican-run Angelicum University.

Deacon Hinkle joked that the seminary is a lot like a submarine - "too many people crammed into too small of a space."

Both at Mount St. Mary's and in Rome, he met incredible men from around the world. "I can only pray that I have learned from them and they from me," he said.

During his diaconate year, Deacon Hinkle served the Catholic community at the Naval Support Activity in Naples, Italy, where he was inspired by the chaplain, Father Dan Fullerton.

Three of the seven priests to be ordained this week plan to serve as military chaplains. The diocese also has two active-duty chaplains, two priests serving at diocesan parishes who will be released into duty soon and two seminarians who plan to serve as chaplains.

Yet, as Deacon Hinkle noted, there remains a severe shortage of Catholic chaplains.

"As a consequence, our Catholic men and women operating in harsh conditions are forced to go for long periods without the sacraments," he said.

In the naval tradition of his father and grandfathers, Deacon Hinkle looks forward to bringing the sacraments - especially the Eucharist - to such men and women who give so generously.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2014