Being a Defence Force chaplain offers Catholic priests a unique and challenging experience of their vocation, according to Lieutenant Gordon Hutcheon, Careers Promotion Team Leader for Defence Force Recruiting.
“You’ve really got to be a people person,” Lieutenant Hutcheon says. The role involves a whole lot more than offering the sacraments. The chaplain is the “first port of call” for any personal issues facing Defence Force personnel, whether it’s out in the bush with the Army, or in the middle of the ocean on a Navy ship.
“If something’s going on at home, job stuff, or with your personal life at home, the chaplain will be involved because they’re the experts on looking after people.”
Currently the Defence Force is seeking to recruit more chaplains to the Army, Navy and Airforce in both permanent and reserve capacities.
Fr Bob Hayes, currently Parish Priest at St Anthony’s in Austral, has been a part-time chaplain with the Army Reserve since 1975.
“The Army’s given me a broader perspective,” Fr Hayes said. “Educationally it’s terrific with the courses they offer and the seminars we go to.”
He said being able to mix with members of other Christian denominations and other faiths is an attractive component of being a chaplain. “There’s a lot of faith sharing. You don’t get that in a normal Parish Priest role.”
During the Australian Army’s campaign in East Timor in 2001, Fr Hayes was stationed in Kapooka in Wagga Wagga.
“It was a really busy time. A lot of guys and girls were joining up because of the action in Timor. We had to provide a lot of counselling and we worked long hours. But I loved it. I had a great time at Kapooka.”
Lieutenant Hutcheon said on Navy ships, as across the whole Defence Force, the chaplain fulfils a counselling role and will liaise with commanding officers in order to take care of any personal issues among the personnel. The chaplain also spends time serving meals in the galley in order to get to know the troops. “You get to know everyone,” Lieutenant Hutcheon said.
At present he said they are seeking chaplains to serve in Darwin, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane, Townsville and Wagga Wagga.
The recruitment process involves fitness, medical and cognitive ability tests as well as interviews.
Anyone interested in serving as a chaplain can apply at defencejobs.gov.au or by phoning 13 19 01.