Father Bishop named chaplain of the year

BRIGHTON -- Like Nicodemus in the Bible, men serving in the military in Iraq also hear the call of God at all hours of the night.

Father Marc Bishop, who performed four confirmations and two baptisms while on a seven-month tour of duty, said that each of the men had his own approach.

“It was Nicodemus showing up at the door. I don’t know how many times there was a knock at the door, and it was two or three in the morning,” he said.

“Some of those conversations I can’t be sure that I heard, but I know that the Lord was present,” he added, laughing.

Father Bishop, a priest for the Archdiocese of Boston, was named this year’s chaplain of the year by the Reserve Officer Association (ROA) Feb. 5 at the association’s Midwinter Conference in Washington D.C. He was selected for his extraordinary contribution to the welfare, moral and effectiveness of the military reserve services, according to the association.

ROA was founded in 1922 and represents the reserve officers from all branches of the military. Its mission is to “support and promote the development and execution of a military policy for the United States that will provide adequate National Security.”

The honor is named the Vincent R. Capodanno Chaplain of the Year. Father Capodanno, MM, was a U.S. Navy chaplain who served in Vietnam. He often traveled with the troops into battle, attending to wounded and dying marines. On Sept. 4, 1967 he was killed in action. In 1971, he received the Medal of Honor in recognition of his sacrifice.

Father Bishop joined the military as a chaplain candidate in 1996 and became a chaplain in 2003. During his candidacy, he was stationed in Maine, Virginia and Rhode Island. As a chaplain he was assigned to 1st Battalion, 25th Regiment, 4th Marine Division. In 2004, he was promoted to his current rank of Navy lieutenant. In 2006 his regiment began a seven-month tour in Iraq from March to October.

Father Bishop said that his time in Iraq was “intense” with many different experiences.

“The main thing I was doing was making sure that the men had their religious needs met,” he said.

He served the marines and sailors by celebrating Mass, officiating at memorial services and bringing news about the troops to their comrades. Since the unit was split into four or five groups at any given time and those groups would divide into smaller parties, the troops would go weeks without seeing each other. Father Bishop said he was a link who connected all the smaller groups.

Memorial services were an important part of Father Bishop’s work in Iraq. During those seven months, 10 marines and one sailor from the unit died. The ceremonies were a time to address the troops’ grief, but because they were in combat, they needed to quickly get back on the job. They knew that in order to honor the men who died, they needed to continue on their mission, he said.

“It’s the strange reality of not really having the time to grieve properly there,” he added.

A memorial for all 11 men and their families was held for the entire unit when they returned to the United States. Father Bishop said it was well attended.

Father Bishop also had a hand in the story of Baby Miriam, an Iraqi child who was born with an intestinal disorder in which her bladder developed outside her body. The baby’s mother approached some men from the unit for help. Those men brought the issue to the attention of the Navy doctor and Father Bishop. Together, with the support of those in command, they were able to transport Miriam to the United States so that she could get the necessary surgery not available in Iraq. That surgery was performed at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“We were able to make this happen,” he said. “It showed the best of how chaplains work with the military.”

It also showed that the mission of the troops in Iraq is directly connected with their humanity and the humanity of the people in Iraq, he added.

Father Bishop is originally from Billerica, studied at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton and was ordained in the archdiocese on May 26, 2001. He served at St. Mary Parish in Chelmsford for over four years and is now at Holy Family Parish in Amesbury.

The Vincent R. Capodanno Chaplain of the Year annual award rotates among the different military service agencies. Each year the chief of chaplains of the appropriate service selects an honoree and the award is presented at the annual conference.

Father Bishop said he was shocked at being selected to receive the award. His success was made possible by the cooperation of the other chaplains and the support of his troops, he said.

“I couldn’t believe it. It’s a great honor and I receive it on behalf of the battalion because it’s really their great work,” he said. “They allowed me to be successful.”