On Sunday, October 6, 2019, the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, together with the Archdiocese of Military Services, USA (AMS), welcomed more than 400 visitors to the Annual Pilgrimage for the Sea Services. Active-duty and retired members of the United States Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Merchant Marines, and Public Health Service, along with the public, were in attendance to honor all who serve or have served at sea.
The pilgrimage began with Mass in the Basilica, which was celebrated by the Most Reverend Michael C. Barber, S.J., Bishop of Oakland, California. Having served for many years as a chaplain in the Naval Reserve, Bishop Barber prayed for Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton’s intercession for all those serving at sea. Having had two of her sons, Richard and William, serve at sea, Mother Seton was officially designated the Patroness of the Sea Services in 1977.
Midshipmen from the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) in Kings Point, New York, participated in the pilgrimage, and Plebe Anna Hercules served as lector. The U.S. Naval Academy Catholic Choir, led by director Monte Maxwell, provided the music.
In his homily, Bishop Barber talked of his experiences as chaplain and recalled the advice he gave. “All our lives are in God’s hands. If today is not your day to die, no bullet will find you. If today is your day, the only thing keeping you from Heaven is mortal sin. We have a remedy for sin, the sacrament of confession which wipes sin away.” Promising the Marines he would not leave until everyone desiring the sacrament was afforded the opportunity, he recalled how each of the men, even the non-Catholics, accepted the opportunity.
Retired U.S. Navy Admiral William J. Fallon, chairman of the Pilgrimage Sponsoring Committee, spoke of the importance of the time-honored event. Reflecting on the pilgrimage and the solidarity it fostered, he added, “We are here to pray for our people in uniform and for their families, to ask St. Elizabeth Ann Seton to intercede for them.”
Although the day was rainy and chilly, the Basilica was filled with members of the community there to pray for the country and members of the Sea Services, and to honor those who have sacrificed and those that continue to sacrifice through their service. Many also reflected on how Mother Seton had touched their lives in personal ways.
Bishop Barber was struck by how beautifully Mother Seton “balanced her vocation of mother and sister…with an eye always on her sons and family, simultaneously living out both vocations.”
Father Aidan Logan, O.C.S.O., Vocations Director, the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, also spoke of Mother Seton’s influence. “My mother was involved in the effort for her beatification. She had a relic she would take to the bedside of anyone we knew who was sick. I felt like I knew her. Her conversion story and discovery of the Catholic Faith was very influential in my life. When I was at the Naval Academy, I made sure I invoked her…Today, she is very much in the minds of the midshipmen.”
Deacon Daniel Koehl, a student of Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary, was grateful to be able to both attend and take part in the pilgrimage. “This is a Mass that I have gone to every year at the Mount. I have grown in devotion to Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton over the years, especially this year.” Koehl, whose home parish is St. Vincent de Paul in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, joked of Mother Seton seemingly chasing him down, as, over the year, he had been located to different Mother Seton parishes and assignments. He was happy to volunteer to take part in the Mass and added, “As soon as the call came through, I said, ‘I will be there!’”
“We’re grateful for all of the servicemen and women who’ve taken part in the pilgrimage over the years,” said Rob Judge, executive director of the Seton Shrine. “It’s a prayerful and moving time for them to join with their family members and others in thanking Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton for her protection, and to ask for her continued intercession on their behalf as they serve our country.”