Christopher Lushis
Freelance Writer
May 18, 2022 // Diocese

Father Meyer prepares for ‘call within a call’

Christopher Lushis
Freelance Writer

“A call within a call” was how St. Mother Teresa described God’s request of her to establish a new religious community in service to the poorest of the poor. A similar “vocation within a vocation” is found by priests who follow the Lord’s invitation to bring the sacraments to those offering their lives in service of country and neighbor.

Such is the case for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend’s own Father Jacob Meyer, who has faithfully served the diocese for more than 10 years, but will now begin a new missionary journey of priestly service to military personnel around the world.

Commissioned as a lieutenant in the Navy Chaplain Corps on March 1, 2022, Father Meyer will soon be leaving St. Monica Parish in Mishawaka and begin ministering to servicemen and women in the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard for at least the next five years. During this time, he will remain incardinated as a priest of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, but will serve under the direction of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA. This five-year tour of duty may be further extended at the discretion of Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades.

Provided by Katie Rohrer
Father Jacob Meyer will join the Navy Chaplain Corps beginning in August.

Originally from South Bend, Father Meyer was ordained in 2012 and served as Parochial Vicar of St. Charles Borromeo and Chaplain to Bishop Dwenger High School, Fort Wayne, until being assigned as Pastor of St. Monica, Mishawaka, in 2016. In that time, St. Monica’s has surmounted significant financial debt, nearly tripled parishioner enrollment, completed various capital improvements and welcomed more than 100 individuals into the family of the Catholic Church.

Vicki Zmirski, St. Monica’s Business Manager since 2005, shared her gratitude for Father Meyer’s influence at the parish, saying, “When faced with challenges, Father Jacob looks for opportunities for growth. He has helped revitalize the parish by building on existing ministries, establishing new ones, and encouraging everyone to make a commitment to ‘build the Church.’  His energy and enthusiasm for all the projects is contagious. The joy in his priestly vocation is evident in all he does.”

With such success, one may ask why he is choosing to leave parish priesthood for the military. One reason is their tremendous need. In 2020, there were 204 Catholic active-duty priests serving approximately 1.8 million Catholic men, women and children. Within the three military branches Father Meyer will serve, there are 27 active priests serving nearly 400,000 Catholics. By comparison, there are about 80 priests who serve the approximately 200,000 Catholic faithful of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

However, for Father Meyer, it was also a very personal call. Around the time of his ordination, his brother Ryan, a Naval officer who served on the USS Makin Island, expressed his sadness that there were not enough priest chaplains in the military. At the time, Father Meyer’s own health prevented him from being able to seriously think about serving, but he remained aware of the reality that many in the military are unable to access the sacraments – sometimes for months or even a year – due to limited or no access to priests.

After undergoing several surgeries which brought about a physical transformation, Father Meyer shared, “in prayer, I asked the Lord what His desire was for me in this new condition. Shortly afterwards, a desire to be a Navy chaplain was placed on my heart. But I spent a year ignoring that call before finally meeting with Bishop Rhoades to discuss the possibility. We spoke about it in October 2020, and he gave me permission to apply.”

As a chaplain, he will be considered a non-combatant, yet is expected to remain in top physical condition to fulfill basic tasks aboard ship. For this reason, he first needed to meet the fitness requirements expected of anyone joining the Navy. Father Meyer completed these successfully and received acknowledgement of his military acceptance on May 25, 2021, his 37th birthday.

He enters military life at an older age than most, but also with valuable experience. He explained, “When I went to Lansing, Michigan, for my medical evaluation, I met 38 young men and women about to ship out on their first deployment. Everyone was either 18 years old or in their early 20s, many leaving home for the first time. When I walked in, the talking stopped and one young gentleman exclaimed, ‘Hey, we all want to know which branch the old man is joining!’ I responded, ‘I am a Catholic priest applying to be a Navy chaplain.’ He immediately changed his tone and became more serious, trying to appear professional and respectful, which gave everyone a brief chuckle. But almost instantly, their interactions with me changed, relaxed and they wanted to talk. I spent most of that evening and the next day doing various forms of counsel with these young people because they were instantly able to identify a chaplain as a ‘safe space,’ a place for comfort, an opportunity for guidance. That was a really beautiful experience for me. I got a little window into what I will be doing on a day-to-day basis.”

His new journey will begin in August as he enters Officer Development School and Chaplain School in Newport, Rhode Island. Then on December 1, he will be deployed to serve as the Catholic chaplain on the USS Ronald Reagan, an aircraft carrier with nearly 7,000 souls on board. The home port for this ship is Yokosuka, Japan. 

While Father Meyer is currently well-known for his active social media presence, this will be ending soon. He remarked, “I am shipping out like St. Paul! I will be going off the grid, deactivating my social media accounts and changing my cell phone number.” 

However, he expressed his deep appreciation for all those who have offered prayers and support for him, those he has had the privilege to meet with and minister to and those who have enriched his priesthood through their presence and participation in the Church. 

While losing Father Meyer for this time will be difficult for many who have come to know and love him, the mission of the Church continues. Katie Rohrer, who has worked as parish secretary for almost Father Meyer’s entire time at St. Monica, stated, “as great a loss as it is for us and as sad as we are, we can’t keep him, because he is called to something higher. He knows how to reach people and he is going to be saving way more souls going where he is going, because some of them have never had the opportunity to know Jesus.” 

She continued, “Every transition is difficult, but the people of St Monica’s know how to roll with it. I cannot imagine anyone filling his shoes, or that anyone would try, but the priest who comes in next will bring and draw out from us something new.”

Father Meyer added, “The test of a pastor is not what happens when you are here, but rather when you leave. My hope is that what is left behind is a people radically more in love with the Eucharist. My greatest hope is that adoration, the Mass, the altar serving and eucharistic devotion all continue. If they do, then it will have been a success.”

Lastly, he said, “Many will ask me, ‘Father, when we have such need here, why go there?’ My response is that the need is great everywhere and we need to pray that the Lord will send more men into the harvest. Vocations need to increase, and this will come primarily from our families. We have to start praying for more new vocations and keep supporting our priests, so that our young men will have great community and culture to enter into!”

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