Lackland chaplain selected as monsignor

  • Published
  • By Mike Joseph
  • 37th Training Wing Public Affairs
Growing up in a Roman Catholic household and attending Catholic schools, little did Chaplain Michael Butler know what was in his future.

The love of his church and fellow man, his tireless efforts in Catholic vocation and his appreciation of the military have taken the humble Roman Catholic priest to a place where not many people have traveled.

In a recent ceremony in his hometown of St. Louis, Chaplain Butler was bestowed the honor of monsignor in the Catholic church, an honorary title that comes from the pope following a bishop's petition for the title.

Military tradition and regulation say the Missouri native should be addressed as chaplain or by his religious title. The additional designation adds another choice, sometimes with a twist.

"It's kind of confusing sometimes," Chaplain Butler said with a grin. Then breaking into a contagious laugh, "My mom and dad call me Mike, many people back home call me Father because that's how they know me, some people call me chaplain, and some people call me monsignor if they know it. Honestly, sometimes it's hard to answer the phone because it depends on where I am."

No matter what moniker is used, the personable priest has earned it. He will be celebrating 20 years in the priesthood in January 2009, including 17 in the Missouri Air National Guard, rising to his current rank of lieutenant colonel.

Chaplain Butler arrived for active duty at Lackland near the end of September, and is one of two Catholic priests at the base. He is the deputy wing chaplain and also the basic military trainee chaplain.

He started working as a volunteer chaplain in the Air Force, signing up in seminary school for 120 days of duty spread out over two summers. Following ordination in 1989, Chaplain Butler continued to work as an Air Force volunteer before joining the guard. Following 9/11, each year he would be contacted and get the bishop's permission to serve longer than two weeks because of the shortage of priests in the Air Force and would usually be sent overseas.

While serving on the archbishop's staff in St. Louis, "For the last three years I kept saying to the archbishop 'we need more priests in the military.' I wanted to get out of vocation and go back to parish life. He finally agreed to that and then later said, 'you know what? I think I'm going to send you to active duty.'"

How long Chaplain Butler stays on active duty will be up to the military, the new bishop in St. Louis and himself, in no certain order. It's possible he will serve two years at Lackland and then may be deployed overseas.

He has spent a great deal of time in the church's vocational office in St. Louis recruiting for his profession. He's been so successful in the job that the seminary in St. Louis is expanding to accommodate the new students.

"The bishop told me many times it is one of the most difficult jobs in the whole church now," said Chaplain Butler. "Our young people, because of the society we live in, they're not interested often times in serving. Look at the service industries, like police, firefighters, teachers; we don't have enough."

There are no set criteria in achieving a monsignor designation and Chaplain Butler believes it's a much greater reason than simply recognizing his commitment to the church and the guard.

"I think the bishop is saying to the people of St. Louis this office of vocation is a very important office and he wants the people and Catholics to know that," he said. "I know that the military was a dear thing to our archbishop. I think in a way he was also honoring the military because what they do is significant."