Lisa Kochanowski
Assistant Editor/Reporter
June 13, 2023 // Diocese

Living Out Faith Life as a Soldier

Lisa Kochanowski
Assistant Editor/Reporter

The role of a soldier has many layers. A soldier provides support in military operations like combat, assists with training operations, and aids communities during humanitarian or disaster relief. Father Julius Okojie, Pastor of St. Thérèse, Little Flower Church in South Bend, provides a different type of military support to soldiers as a spiritual advocate.

“I am the Chaplain for the 472nd Chemical Battalion of the U.S. Army Reserve located in Chicago, Illinois,” said Father Okojie. “We are a CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear) unit. I am responsible for ensuring that my soldiers’ First Amendment rights are respected and protected. I perform religious services as approved by my endorsing ecclesiastical authority, the Archdiocese for Military Services USA, and provide for those religious needs that are outside my competence and endorsement. In this role, I advise the commander on religion and religious matters and assist in building my soldiers’ spiritual readiness and resilience.”

Photos provided by Father Julius Okojie
Father Julius Okojie is Pastor of St. Thérèse, Little Flower Church in South Bend and Chaplain for the 472nd Chemical Battalion of the U.S. Army Reserve located in Chicago.

Father Okojie is currently on drills with his team and appreciates the opportunity to work with his unit. It is a chance for him to reconnect with his spiritual journey while assisting others with theirs.

“I am currently at my annual training, and it has been like drinking from a fire hose. Although demanding, it’s been really rewarding being with soldiers, being that sign of the Divine presence and supporting them so they can accomplish their tasks,” noted Father Okojie. “I just re-read the Book of Esther and reflected upon the story. One phrase that immediately spoke to me was ‘for such a time as this’ (4:14). I feel the Lord put me here for a moment such as this. Even if I succeed in helping just one soldier, that’s whom the Lord put me here for, at this time. But there’s been more than one soldier so far.”

Father Okojie’s participation with the armed forces began just a few years after he arrived in the country. He was called to serve a unique sector of the community and excitedly answered the call.

“A year or two after arriving in the United States, I started to receive requests from recruiters to be a military chaplain and I kept ignoring them because I wanted to focus on my education. But when I was done with my program, I began to consider this request a little more intentionally. At first, I saw it as an opportunity to fulfill my childhood ambition of joining the Army. I also saw it as an opportunity to minister in a different setting than the parish, to those who sacrifice so much to guarantee our freedoms, but who are often very underserved. So, I sought the permission of my ecclesiastical superiors, and it was granted. The rest is now history,” said Father Okojie.

Father Julius Okojie celebrates Mass for the 472nd Chemical Battalion of the U.S. Army Reserve located in Chicago.

Regular training assignments are required to be part of the regiment.

“Training in the Army is mission determined. However, as a Troop Program Unit (TPU) Soldier, I drill with my unit one weekend every month, and annual training in the summer,” noted Okojie. “As a chaplain, there are additional trainings to help me be effective and competent on my job so that I can adequately serve my soldiers.”

Father Okojie finds this ministry opportunity a chance to learn about other faiths and integrate his Catholic beliefs into his work with the soldiers.

Soldiers of the 472nd Chemical Battalion of the U.S. Army Reserve located in Chicago are gathered for prayer.

“The Army is mindful of the plurality of religions but also respects the religious preference of every soldier, the chaplains included. As a Catholic priest, I celebrate the Holy Mass and offer Bible Study to my soldiers. I also provide spiritual counseling and mentoring, and these draw largely on my Catholic identity and background, while at the same time being respectful of the religion or lack thereof of whoever I minister to,” said Father Okojie.

Okojie said he feels blessed by this opportunity and has no plans to end his service at this time. As long as he stays healthy and gets approval from his superiors, he plans to continue to serve as he is needed.

“This is totally in God’s hands,” said Father Okojie.

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