Prospective Catholic Air Force Captain moves step closer to priesthood

Bishop John M. Kudrick ordains Kenneth Malley a transitional deacon Sept. 22 in Parma, Ohio. Deacon Malley hopes to become an Air Force chaplain (courtesy of Archdiocese for the Military Services)
Bishop John M. Kudrick ordains Kenneth Malley a transitional deacon Sept. 22 in Parma, Ohio. Deacon Malley hopes to become an Air Force chaplain (courtesy of Archdiocese for the Military Services)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Archdiocese for the Military Services has a 12-year Air Force veteran-turned-seminarian one step closer to priesthood. Bishop John M. Kudrick in the Eparchy of Parma, Ohio ordained Kenneth Malley a transitional deacon Sept. 22 at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.

Diaconal ordination is the last step in Deacon Malley’s formational journey toward priestly ordination through the Byzantine Catholic Seminary of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Pittsburgh, Pa. Deacon Malley, 32, earned the rank of second lieutenant in the Air Force and hopes the Archdiocese for the Military Services will endorse him as a chaplain.

Deacon Malley holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from California University of Pennsylvania and a master’s degree in philosophy from the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio — where several seminarians for the Diocese of Phoenix also study. He discovered his vocation while deployed in southeast Asia.

“I had a very hard time in my earlier years. Before I learned to trust in the plan and power of God, I always thought I had to figure everything out on my own. After abject confusion, depression that sent me wandering on a 3,000-mile road trip, and ultimately, homelessness resulting in the need for food and shelter, I joined the Air Force knowing they would cover my necessities,” Deacon Malley said.

He felt God’s guiding hand while in Asia.

“Eventually, I knew that there was nothing else I could do but follow that calling, and now I can’t imagine doing anything else,” said the former violin-playing orchestra member.

Deacon Malley is among a growing number of men in formation to become priests and military chaplains through a co-sponsored seminarian program. He is one of six ordained this year alone with two already ordained to the priesthood.

The Archdiocese for the Military Services partners with local dioceses and religious communities to support vocations and fill a fast-growing shortage of Catholic chaplains in the U.S. military. The pool has quadrupled from seven to more than 30 co-sponsored seminarians in the last five years. Nearly 40 men are at various stages of applying and discerning.

The total number is still small, but vital. Priests are reaching the military’s mandatory retirement age of 62 faster than they can be replaced. Since 9/11, the number of active-duty chaplains has fallen from more than 400 to 234. While Catholics make up about 25% of the U.S. armed forces, Catholic priests currently account for only 8% of military chaplains.

The Archdiocese is looking for ways to fund a fast-rising seminary bill, now projected at $2.5 million over the next five years. Twenty-six men and women will run in the Marine Corps Marathon — also known as The People’s Marathon — next month to raise funds and awareness for the co-sponsored seminarian program. Donations can be made at www.milarch.org.