Father Collins heads to the army

Father James Collins of St. Benedict’s church will be trading a sacristy for a humvee as he becomes the only Roman Catholic chaplain for the New York State Army National Guard.

Father Collins celebrated his final Mass as St. Benedict’s on Sunday, April 16, followed by a reception from with fellow priests, parishioners and friends. He will go on to serve the spiritual needs of the men and women on the front lines in the War on Terror.

Collins will be deployed as an army chaplain to the “Fighting” 69th Infantry Regiment of the New York Army National Guard, headquartered in Manhattan. After a temporary relocation to the Church of St. Monica on the Upper East Side, he will likely be deployed to Afghanistan in 2011.

Collins was ordained as a priest in 2004 and has served at St. Benedict’s parish for two years. Collins left his mark by organizing teams of altar servers based on a military model, hosting field trips to St. Joseph’s Seminary for men interested in exploring a vocation in priesthood, and was also the facilitator of a revised and expanded web site for the parish. What he will miss most about the parish is celebrating mass in such a beautiful church.

“The one thing that I will remember most about St. Benedict’s is the physical beauty of the church and of the people coming to fill the pews,” Collins said. “The parishioners are very generous and kind-hearted. There are few places outside of St. Patrick’s Cathedral where you have this kind of beautiful liturgy.”

Collins joined the U.S. Army’s Chaplain Candidate’s Program in 1999 while still a seminary member, first to earn money during summer breaks when he had no seminary classes. He entered the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant and went all over the country and beyond to military hospitals and training facilities.

“The CCP program is for people who are looking to become chaplains, and with the permission of Archbishop Timothy Dolan, it all came together,” Collins said.

After a challenging three months of physical training and spiritual preparation, Collins worked as a chaplain with the 101st Calvary division of the New York Army National Guard, based on Staten Island, during the summer and on weekends. He also served as a chaplain at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C., Fort Jackson in South Carolina, and overseas in Germany and South Korea.

“I love being a parish priest, but there is something unique and beautiful about being a priest in uniform,” Collins said. “The soldiers are really wonderful and they love their chaplains. The unique things I can bring to the soldiers is to say mass for them and to hear confession for Catholic soldiers. There is a dire need for military chaplains. God guides you to the place that you need to be.”

Reach Patrick Rocchio at (718) 742-3393 or procchio@cnglocal.com

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