Army National Guard chaplain, St. Joe pastor reflects on deployment

| Jessica Weinberger | April 8, 2016 | 0 Comments
Father Michael Creagan, pastor of St. Joseph in West St. Paul and Army National Guard chaplain, poses with service men during a deployment last year to Kosovo. Courtesy Father Creagan

Father Michael Creagan, pastor of St. Joseph in West St. Paul and Army National Guard chaplain, poses with military members during a deployment last year to Kosovo. Courtesy Father Michael Creagan

At St. Joseph in West St. Paul, Father Michael Creagan serves as pastor to more than 1,900 families. But his full pastoral duties extend to hundreds more — the men and women of the Minnesota Army National Guard’s 1/34th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, part of the esteemed “Red Bulls.”

“It’s like I added another 800 people to my parish,” Father Creagan said about his commissioning as chaplain for the Bloomington-based battalion in 2013.

Last June, Father Creagan traded in his vestments for Army fatigues for his first deployment in Kosovo. As one of only 30 Catholic chaplains in the country for the Army National Guard, Father Creagan was deployed to Camp Bondsteel with soldiers based in North Carolina and West Virginia.

The group’s mission was to provide a safe and secure environment and to promote the freedom of movement for the local people, a NATO mission that Father Creagan says has been overall successful in increasing the safety in the region.

At Camp Bondsteel, Father Creagan oversaw the pastoral care of not only the U.S. soldiers, but also of all the troops representing 30 nations and diverse faith backgrounds. He led daily Mass and pilgrimages to religious sites in the country, forging strong relationships with soldiers from Turkey, Armenia, Poland, Switzerland and Romania. He lived and worked alongside the soldiers, quickly discovering that the rhythm of the sacraments, prayer, relationship-building and administrative work mirrored his work as a parish priest back home.

Over shared meals or ping-pong games in the recreation center, Father Creagan had the opportunity to ask about the soldiers’ lives and beliefs, often comforting young soldiers away from home for the first time or supporting married soldiers worried about the spouse and children they left behind.

“Anybody feels comfortable speaking to the chaplain, whether they’re a private or a general,” said Father Creagan, who was ordained in 1997 and named pastor of St. Joseph in 2008. “That’s one of the beautiful opportunities that a chaplain has — to be that listening ear and that source of support.”

As the designated English-speaking Catholic priest for the entire region, Father Creagan would also travel to three other bases and one outpost to celebrate Mass.

“I had this great sense of being united with so many people around the world, because at a Catholic Mass, you could have Irish, Hungarians, Austrians and Slovenians,” he said. “It’s definitely the universal Church in that way.”

At a typical Sunday Mass at the NATO headquarters in the capital city of Pristina, the faithful represented as many as six nations, he said.

As Father Creagan learned first-hand about different cultures and faith backgrounds, he extended the same opportunity to the students at his parish’s school, St. Joseph’s Catholic School. Using Skype, students spoke with soldiers on the base about their daily responsibilities, faith life and customs. It’s through these experiences that Father Creagan hopes younger generations will come to appreciate other cultures and ultimately choose to be instruments of peace.

While his fellow troops remained in Kosovo until March, Father Creagan completed his six-month deployment in December. Following a demobilization process in Texas and a flight back to Minneapolis, he was back in the hallways of the school only a few hours only a few hours after his homecoming, ready to participate fully in the busy Advent season.

He’s grateful for the support and understanding of the parish while he served overseas, noting prayer, care packages and even handmade rosaries that he distributed around the base. Months after returning from deployment, Father Creagan continues to feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the many blessings within his parish and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

“It really helped me to take a step back when I was away from the parish and see folks who were working with meager resources to realize how incredibly blessed we are here,” he said. “But while we are incredibly blessed, that means God is asking more of us.”

Nearly halfway through his eight-year term as chaplain, Father Creagan continues to minister to service men and women here in Minnesota. He encourages others to remember people in all corners of the world, and importantly, to pray for peace.

“It’s important for us to have an awareness of the universal Church,” he said. “It’s easy for us to get very focused on what we’re doing here, but we need to raise our awareness of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.”

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