by Katie Peterson
Special to The Leaven
LEAVENWORTH — When a man or woman joins the military, rotations between duty stations and unexpected deployments are part of the job description. But that often makes it difficult to put down roots anywhere.
It can be even more difficult when it comes to keeping faith a priority in the family.
Though finding a place to attend Mass isn’t necessarily difficult, the unpredictability of one’s assignment makes it hard to connect with those in the church who don’t have experience with the military lifestyle.
“There’s a great frustration that comes with moving and trying to find places to go to Mass,” said Lt. Col. Erik Jablonski, a history instructor at Army University. “Whether you’re on vacation or in the military, we travel a lot. So, you rely a lot on the web to go there and find out [where the nearest Catholic church is].
“Two rituals for me on Sunday are to call my parents — wherever we are in the world — and go to Mass,” he said. “So, raising two kids like that . . . it becomes challenging.”
Army spouse Nicole Kallo said some duty stations they’ve been at have included a Catholic church on the installation, but some did not.
“When we were in England, the Catholic church closest to base was a 15- to 20-minute drive to get there,” said Kallo. “We chose that church just because of it being close to the base, so we would have an influx of people from the unit be there — so, we can get that camaraderie of being with other military families.
“But it was still sort of isolating because that church had many locals that were nonmilitary.”
Army spouse Amanda Geneski experienced a similar situation when her family was stationed at Fort Drum, New York.
“We didn’t live on-post. We lived off-post, so we attended a little chapel called St. Andrew’s,” Geneski said. “Our kids were probably the only military kids that were in that group.”
No, finding a place to fit into a Catholic community while in the military is not always easy — until they came to Fort Leavenworth, that is. There, they discovered the St. Ignatius Catholic Community.
“I think we need to do everything we can as a church to support our families,” said Michelle Taylor, Catholic coordinator of St. Ignatius.
“They can immediately jump into a family community here that they know they’re going to get love and support from,” she continued. “We’re blessed in the military that the Army funds many programs that my friends, who go in town, don’t have.”
“The most important thing that we provide is the community because they already know each other. They’re already affiliated,” added Dorothy Ling, religious education director.
From a military family’s first step in the door, the St. Ignatius Catholic Community provides benefits.
“It is more of a convenience here,” Jablonski said. “Being able to live here close, it also ties you to the military community on-post — your neighbors, co-workers and everyone else.
“So, you build that kind of a family bond and your children see that they’re not alone,” he added.
Geneski said it gave her children — 12-year-old Zoe and 8-year-old Gage — something they couldn’t get when attending the off-post chapel in New York.
“My kids — being military kids — that was something really neat to do: to go out of their spectrum and be part of the civilian community,” she said. “But I think coming here and finally being part of an organization on- post, it helps strengthen their religion.
“It is a neat thing. I love coming here together with the kids.”
For Kallo, the difference had an even deeper meaning when her husband, Lt. Col. John Kallo, Mission Command Center of Excellence, found out he would be deploying to Mali, Africa, for a year starting March 10.
The Kallos’ 8-year-old twins Timothy and Victoria were preparing for their first Communion on April 27. However, when they found out about the deployment, the Kallos said Ling and chaplain Father (Maj.) Jeffrey Whorton, the pastor, didn’t hesitate to help find a solution.
Timothy and Victoria made their first Communion Feb. 23, with their father present.
“Father Jeff’s reaction was probably second nature,” said John Kallo. “They understand how important the sacraments are in a specific religious event. So, that sense of family when you have that inclusion, they didn’t bat an eye.”
“Dorothy (Ling) said to me, ‘This is why the military community is so great — because we have these deployments that happen. We have these (temporary duty assignment) exercises that occur, and we can work around that,’” Nicole Kallo said.
“So, she was flexible in saying whatever we need to do, just let them know the date,” she added.
Being able to go to Mass on a military base helps service members reinforce the importance of faith and strength to their children, said John Kallo.
“From a career perspective, it reinforces spiritual faith and strength, which is part of some of the well-being or self-care as military professionals,” he said. “It reinforces to our children as we’re raising them how being a soldier, being a representative to serve your nation, faith is still part of that.
“We are nomadic during our careers,” he continued, “but the faith and the church community provide one of those lily pads from one location to another that brings home wherever your family may be at that point.”
To further help soldiers create that community Catholic environment with other military families, St. Ignatius offers several avenues for additional connection.
On Feb. 23, Ling held a retreat for the 34 children set to receive their first Communion on April 27, and their parents. During that retreat, they read from Scripture, held a family prayer service to remember Jesus’ Last Supper, learned bread making and made first Communion banners.
“I really like it that as a parent, they make you come in and learn a lot more about the church itself,” Jablonski said, whose daughter Ella will be making her first Communion. “Growing up Catholic, I never had quite the education I see we offer to both the parents and the children.”
Ling also provides retreats for the confirmation students as well.
Along with retreats for the sacraments, St. Ignatius also has a Life Teen group that meets every Sunday morning after Mass.
“The whole purpose of Life Teen is to bring teens closer to Christ. It is a little different from the typical religious ed programs. I like to think it is more fun,” said Sandy Law, Life Teen coordinator. “We get to have more discussions. We do follow the Life Teen curriculum, but we have a lot of discussions about current events.
“We do a lot of activities with the kids, but it is really to get them to find ways to live out their faith in their everyday life.”
Law said having a Catholic youth group, specifically for military teens, has a further benefit.
“A lot of what we talk about are things they’ve seen at different locations where they’ve lived, how their faith is lived out,” she said. “Sometimes, these kids have lived around the world, so they get to share their experiences. And I think that we all learn a lot from each other because of that.”
Georgina Connolly, 16, said she enjoys being part of Life Teen.
“It has helped with my faith because you get to talk and meet with kids your own age who also share your faith, which is harder in our society,” said Connolly. “So, it is pretty cool.”
Along with their weekly meetings, Life Teen also has retreats. Last January, they also attended the March for Life in Washington, D.C.
Every Thursday morning throughout the school year, it is easy to find out where the Catholic spouses on Fort Leavenworth are: at the Women of St. Ignatius Bible study group at Pioneer Chapel. This Bible study stems from the Catholic Women of the Chapel program through the Military Council of Catholic Women, which is represented at installations throughout the Army.
“Just like any PCS (Permanent Change of Station), we start looking for housing, for schools and for churches,” said Dollia Lemus, WOSI president. “So, because [CWOC] is widespread, you can plug into it quickly ahead of time. You might even know people from a different installation that happen to be there and reconnect that way.”
Each meeting, the women come together in prayer, enjoy some fellowship with breakfast and discuss whatever book they may be reading at the time. They also are regularly involved with Catholic Charities and the Archdiocese for the Military, Lemus said.
Geneski converted to Catholicism in April 2018 after being born and raised Lutheran, and she said being a member of the Bible study group helped her as she went through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.
“The ladies really helped me go into the religion and I’ve learned so much about Catholicism through this ladies group. I think [in] all these ladies, there is a lot of wisdom,” Geneski said. “My heart just feels beautiful here.”
The Knights of Columbus are also active on post, through the St. Ignatius Council 13354. The group consists of active duty, retired military and civilians affiliated with Fort Leavenworth.
The mission of the council is to “serve the St. Ignatius Catholic Community, while providing men a means to grow in their faith, to serve their community and to fellowship with other Catholic men,” according to the council’s brochure.
“The Saint Ignatius Council 13354 was founded in the summer of 2003 through the efforts of the men of Saint Ignatius and the Catholic soldiers of Fort Leavenworth,” the brochure continues. “It is named after Saint Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits. Our council provides members an opportunity to get involved with their church and community while stationed at Fort Leavenworth through various outreach programs.”
Taylor said the St. Ignatius Catholic Community provides these resources and more for one simple reason.
“Knowledge is power, and knowledge strengthens the domestic church,” Taylor said. “The church has given us a great gift, and we need to take advantage of it.
“My hope is that we all continue to work together as the body of Christ.”