WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Padre Major Hope Winfield is a graduate of Newman Theological College.
Recently promoted, Padre Major Hope Winfield has just become one of two major-ranked female Roman Catholic chaplains in the Canadian military.
The Canadian Forces has about 192 regular force chaplains and 145 reserve force chaplains representing Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths.
In the military ordinariate, the Catholic diocese for the Canadian military established in April 1986, there are 84 Roman Catholic chaplains. Of those, 12 are women. Roman Catholics did not accept women into the chaplaincy until the late 1980s.
While studying at Newman Theological College, graduating in 2005, Winfield saw an advertisement to join the reserve chaplaincy. She did so and, after basic training, was posted to CFB Wainwright, a main training base of the 1 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group, including Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry.
"Within the military, why I ended up being a chaplain is our ministry of presence," said Winfield.
"We go wherever our military members go. Their workplace is where we get to meet them and minister to them, whether at home or abroad, whether on course or on exercise or on a ship."
An important responsibility of a military chaplain is to provide spiritual guidance to those in need. This may include providing care to those experiencing a spiritual crisis or bereavement. In such a setting, pastoral care may include providing a comforting ear during times of grief or counseling to people undergoing general life stress due to personal or work-related issues.
Winfield strives to enhance the effectiveness of the Canadian Forces as a whole – its leadership, the individual men and women who serve, and their families – through the provision of religious support, advice and care.
Now based at the Edmonton Garrison, she helps the military personnel and their families live and serve, empowering them spiritually to meet the demands of military service.
"An advantage to being a military chaplain is you are posted across Canada, and get to see different places and travel with the troops wherever they're deployed. It's an opportunity to go beyond the confines of a parish chapel and go with your troops wherever they may be, including sailors and air personnel," Winfield said.
A possible drawback is being posted away from family. Winfield married a military police officer. Her sister, Lizzy Holst, also received her theological training at Newman College. Holst has just become a military chaplain as well, posted to Esquimalt (Victoria).
Winfield served overseas at an undisclosed base in Afghanistan. She said there she got to meet people from around the world and work with coalition chaplains.
Chaplains are non-combatants, and do not have the right to participate directly in hostilities. Unlike other military personnel, she does not carry a weapon.
In the geographical area of Edmonton, there are 16 chaplains that represent 10 religious bodies. She works jointly with the chaplains of other churches and faiths. They have both an ecclesiastical chain of command and a military chain of command.
"In the military, we minister to our own and facilitate the worship for others, and we care for all – that is our mandate. It's a wonderful opportunity to be on an ecumenical team, an interfaith team," she said.
Not all of the Canadian military bases have priests. The Edmonton Garrison is blessed to have two priests on the team. The divisional chaplain is a Ukrainian Catholic priest.
"For the bases that don't have priests or, for example, when I'm deployed, we have a box of pre-consecrated hosts. We have our mandates to do Baptisms, Liturgy of the Word and pastoral care. We do the best we can until we have a priest available," said Winfield.
She said there is a lack of new Roman Catholic military chaplain recruits. However, aside from her sister, others with whom she studied at Newman College have gone on to serve in the military.
Steven Defer, married with children, was posted to Afghanistan and also serves as a chaplain at the Edmonton Garrison. Oblate Father Roy Laudenorio just returned from a rescue mission in the Philippines and is now stationed in Winnipeg. Zbigniew Jonczyk is currently serving in Great Britain.