Chaplain mixes spiritual guidance with worldly experiences

  • Published
  • By By Kevin Chandler
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
When meeting Chaplain (Maj.) Tim Hirten, one is struck by his kind and welcoming presence. Those who attend Catholic mass at the chapel can attest to his friendly demeanor and spiritual leadership. What does not appear at first glance is the wealth of experiences Father Tim brings to his parishioners. 

One might be surprised to know that Father Tim, as his congregation knows him, was once a collegiate All-American basketball player, can speak several languages and was a correspondent for a major news network. 

After averaging twenty points per game in college, Father Tim played professional basketball for two teams in Belgium before being traded to a team in Israel. "I played in the European Pro League for seven years," he said, "and then two years with the Harlem Globetrotters' opposition team, the Washington Generals." 

The year he spent in Tel Aviv with the Israeli team helped him learn Hebrew (one of seven languages he speaks) and visit many sacred sites throughout the West Bank. The year also served as a transition from basketball to priesthood.

"After the basketball career, I started my studies for the seminary," said Father Tim, "I had been thinking about it since high school but was offered a basketball scholarship and put it off." Father Tim studied in Rome, taking classes in both Italian and Latin. 

While in Rome, Father Tim's class was approached by an Air Force recruiter looking for chaplain candidates. Father Tim completed seminary and was commissioned in the Air Force Reserves, where he served 15 years before coming on active duty. 

During his recent deployment to Ali Air Base, Iraq, Father Tim had the chance to minister hundreds of Airmen and Soldiers from several different countries. Often he was the only chaplain on base and had to ride a bicycle to the six field chapels to give equal time to all the deployed personnel.

When asked about ministering Airmen, Father Tim describes it as "very adventurous, very exciting." In addition to the chapel's primary religious offerings, Father Tim gives weekly lessons to Airmen on personal, ethical and moral formation. "The spiritual issue is one that can really bring a person down quickly," he said, "it can bring down a marriage and bring down a family." 

Father Tim said all these experiences, in addition to his time as a religious affairs correspondent for ABC-New York, make him a better chaplain. His parishioners want to listen to the word of God from someone who has world experience, he said.

The steady increase in mass attendance during his tenure would seem to confirm this belief. For more on all base chapel services, contact 481-7485.