By Bill Brewer
Parishes across the Diocese of Knoxville participated in Veterans Day observances the week of Nov. 11, with congregations recognizing those now and once serving in the military as well as remembering veterans who have died.
Bishop Richard F. Stika celebrated Mass at St. Therese Church in Clinton on Veterans Day, where parish members who served in the armed forces were honored. Among them was former Marine Anthony Aloi, whose freshly pressed USMC sweatshirt was matched by one worn by his wife, Jean.
Mrs. Aloi was proud to show a copy of the Nov. 15, 1954, Life magazine featuring her husband in his Marine uniform on display with other photos of parish veterans.
The music liturgy for the Mass was led by Paige Chiaro and Kristen Cox, who served as a sergeant E5 in the Army National Guard and played the keyboard in her dress uniform. The bishop was assisted during Mass by Deacon Peter Chiaro, who is serving as temporary administrator of St. Therese.
Veterans Day 2022 took on special meaning for Bishop Stika and the diocese as Bishop Aleksander Jazlowiecki, auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Kyiv-Zhytomyr, Ukraine, was visiting the diocese and celebrating the Green Mass at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus on Nov. 13.
In his homily, Bishop Jazlowiecki thanked the United States for its support of Ukraine in its ongoing war with Russia, which invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. The auxiliary bishop also commended U.S. veterans for their dedication through the decades in defending the United States.
At St. Therese, Bishop Stika said it’s appropriate at certain moments in the secular world to pause and combine the secular with the religious, such as with Veterans Day observances.
“First of all, I want to say to all of you who are veterans, thank you. Thank you for your service,” Bishop Stika said. “We hear the word Eucharist. It’s a great word. It means thanksgiving. Give thanks to God. We also give thanks to other people. Just think of all the people who assist us in our life on a daily basis. It was drilled into my head by my mother that I should always say thank you, even if it’s the smallest thing. Anytime we pray, we offer to God our gratitude and our thanks.”
The Diocese of Knoxville shepherd cited President (and former five-star general) Dwight Eisenhower, saying President Eisenhower in one of his speeches described a true military as one that is a peacemaker, not an aggressor.
“See what’s going on in the Ukraine today,” the bishop pointed out as he referred to Bishop Jazlowiecki.
Bishop Stika singled out two military chaplains who are being considered for sainthood: Father Emil Kapaun, who served and was killed in Korea, and Father Vincent Capodanno, who served and was killed in Vietnam.
The priests, who are now servants of God as their causes for sainthood move forward, were cited as examples of faithful followers of God who also heroically served their country.
“We give thanks to almighty God for people who are willing to be in the service through the intercession of St. Martin of Tours, who himself was a military man,” Bishop Stika said. “Just as President Eisenhower said, true militaries are peacemakers. Let us pray this day for that beautiful gift of peace so that different peoples can learn to live together in peace.”
At St. Joseph Church in Norris, U.S. Navy and Air Force veteran Monsignor Bill Gahagan celebrated Mass on Nov. 13 on a day when veterans in the parish were recognized for their service. Monsignor Gahagan was assisted by Deacon Dan Hosford, who is serving as temporary administrator of St. Joseph.
During the Mass, Monsignor Gahagan and Deacon Hosford asked all veterans in attendance to approach the altar, where they were given a special blessing of thanksgiving.
Deacon Hosford delivered a homily that urged the faithful to get away from temples of self and instead embrace God’s holy temple, an exercise in sacrifice and service, much as those in the armed services perform.
“Within ourselves is truly where the most important event of our lives occurs. Within ourselves, we make that decision: if the temple of my will, not yours, is where we worship. That temple must be destroyed if we are to secure our lives. And a dwelling place of God erected, a holy temple,” the deacon said.
Deacon Hosford said each of us will have trials because of our faith and our beliefs, hatred for what we believe and who we believe in. We all suffer loneliness and loss. But the sacrifice of ourselves is the surrender to the greater good, and that greater good is the Body of Christ.
“Do you accept the mission? It’s a challenge for all of us to live what we have heard, to prepare a place for God to dwell, to invite God to come into our hearts, to be with us at all times, in all things, in all trials, and in all joys,” he continued. “We are to take this into the world, to be a disciple, to go and make disciples.”
In recognizing the veterans, Deacon Hosford offered this prayer:
“Dear God, turn your divine gaze to those who served in the military. They have sacrificed time, comfort, strength, ambition, health, and prosperity for the peace and safety of friends and family and others they have never known. Reward them a hundredfold for all their sacrifice and service. Bless them far beyond all their expectations. Reward them richly for all they have given to this country. We ask that You bless them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
St. Joseph parishioners held a reception for the veterans and their families following the Mass.
Among the veterans recognized was Monsignor Gahagan, who was holding a photo of himself as a young sailor in the U.S. Navy.
“I was in the Navy first for six months and 13 days. Due to chronic sea sickness on a destroyer, I was discharged into the Air Force. I was able to transfer into the Air Force for the years 1955-60,” Monsignor Gahagan said.
He described how his service in the military was valuable to his formation as a priest.
“One of the biggest aspects at that time was seeing how difficult it was for the military personnel with families, how difficult it was for them to be stationed outside of their country with their families back home. The stress that that brought upon family life. And also over there, when families came, the living arrangements weren’t that nice for a lot of them. But for many others it did work well,” he explained.
“The greatest thing for me about the military was growing up. Had it not been for the military, I don’t think this is where I would be because of the role models and older guys who sort of picked me up and kept me out of the gutter, you might say. That was real,” he added.
He singled out and saluted priests who serve as military chaplains.
“That is such a need throughout the world. I know it’s difficult because of the shortage of priests. That’s a hint to the young folks out there who the Holy Spirit is reaching out to,” the monsignor said, giving it his best shot at recruiting vocations.
Dick Shriver, a lay leader at St. Joseph Parish, helped organize the veterans recognition ceremony. He said the parish has been planning the ceremony for months.
“We just felt like our parish really needed to recognize our veterans, especially the veterans who are no longer with us. Our committee put together the idea of having people bring their pictures when they were in service and displaying them and having a ceremony after Mass in honor of our veterans. We have a list of veterans in the parish that is quite long. We have some deceased as well, and we are honoring them, too,” Mr. Shriver said.
He noted that the impact of having veterans active in a parish not only shows a love of country, “but we love our God, and we serve Him as well.”
“For our parish to recognize that and honor the veterans is special,” he said.
The St. Joseph lay committee that organized the veterans recognition ceremony set up a long table in the church that was covered in photos and also had a vacant place-setting with an empty chair to commemorate those veterans who served and did not come home.
“The vacant place-setting is to honor those who passed away during their time in service. We are honoring them with the empty table. The other table is so our parishioners can see all the veterans who we have pictures of, to give an idea of who they are,” Mr. Shriver explained.