Diocesan News

Catholic Couple Aims to Draw Chaplains to U.S. Military With Scholarship Named for Father Capodanno

Jo-Dee Benson and her husband Douglas Oldmixon have made it their mission to increase the number of Catholic chaplains in the U.S. military. (Photo: Courtesy of Douglas Oldmixon)

PROSPECT HEIGHTS — Douglas Oldmixon, a retired member of the U.S. Air Force Reserve, and his wife Jo-Dee Benson consider themselves to be patriotic Americans who are devoted to supporting the nation’s military.

One of the ways the couple, who are Catholic and live near Austin, Texas, show their respect for the military is by being active in the Saint John XXIII Foundation, an organization that raises money to support the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, that is based in Washington, D.C. 

Now, Oldmixon and Benson, a former vice president of a semiconductor supply company, are taking their support for the archdiocese up a notch.

Oldmixon and Benson have donated $75,000 as seed money for the Saint John XXIII Foundation to establish the Father Vincent R. Capodanno Co-Sponsored Seminarian Endowed Scholarship.

The scholarship will help men training for the priesthood and seeking to become military chaplains pay their seminary costs.

“We’re always looking for ways to help the foundation and the archdiocese and this seemed like a good way,” said Oldmixon, a real estate lawyer. “And to have the scholarship named after Father Capodanno, a real hero in my book, is especially fitting.”

Father Vincent Capodanno was a long way from his Staten Island home when this photo was taken at Christmas in Vietnam.

Father Vincent Capodanno was a Maryknoll missionary who hailed from Staten Island and was a U.S. Navy chaplain serving in Vietnam when he was killed in Quang Tin Province in 1967. He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously in 1969. 

In 2006, the Catholic Church declared him a servant of God, opening a cause for canonization. His cause is ongoing. 

Oldmixon and Benson have planted a seed that is showing signs of growing. SInce they made their $75,000 donation a few months ago, other benefactors have stepped forward with another $55,000 for the new scholarship fund.

The Capodanno scholarship will come in handy and is sorely needed at a time when military chaplains are in short supply, said John Schlageter, the foundation’s executive director. “The number of chaplains has decreased significantly over the last number of years. It’s at shockingly low rates right now,” he added.

According to the archdiocese, the military is experiencing a critical shortage of Catholic chaplains — largely due to the fact that aging priests are retiring faster than they can be replaced.

The number of Catholic chaplains has dropped by 50% over the past 24 years, from 400 right after 9/11 to 190 now. While 25% of the military is Catholic, only 7% of the chaplains are Catholic.

Yet, Archbishop Timothy Broglio, the leader of the archdiocese, said studies by the Center for Research Into the Apostolate (CARA) have shown that the military is the largest source of priestly ordinations in the country. 

“Consequently, it is very important to make sure that there are priests in the military to meet the spiritual needs of Catholics and also to continue to encourage young men to consider the priesthood,” he told The Tablet.

“The new Father Vincent R. Capodanno Scholarship will help the archdiocese continue to support those vocations,” Archbishop Broglio added.

Father Vincent Capodanno was known as a man who served side by side with troops in Vietnam. He is pictured celebrating Mass after a battle. (Photos: Courtesy of Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers)

Oldmixon knows first hand the importance of chaplains. “I did three combat tours in the Middle East and each time, access to Catholic priests was a challenge. It always took an extra effort to make sure that myself and other Catholic airmen that I served had access to a Catholic priest while on active duty in a combat zone,” he explained.

Even before the Capodanno scholarship was established, the archdiocese was working to increase the number of chaplains. Archbishop Broglio has championed the Co-Sponsored Seminary Scholarship, a longstanding  program in which the archdiocese partners with dioceses to split the costs of seminary studies for recruits.

The co-sponsored scholarship has been a game changer, Schlageter said. “It used to be that if you went into the seminary, you would join a diocese. You’d be sent off to seminary and then after a few years of ordained ministry, you might say to your bishop that you want to serve in the military as a chaplain,” he explained.

“What Archbishop Broglio did was to highlight this program whereby, if you were interested in becoming a military chaplain prior to entering the seminary or while in seminary, you could be co-sponsored between the Archdiocese for Military Services and your home diocese,” Schlageter added.

Oldmixon and Benson are also active in the Knights of Columbus. Oldmixon is a former Texas state deputy and Benson volunteers with the Texas Women’s Project, a group of wives of Knights. In that role, Benson has raised more than $80,000 for the Co-sponsorship Seminary Scholarship program.

Benson sees the $75,000 donation she and her husband made to the Capodanno Scholarship as a natural extension of the Texas Women’s Project’s earlier work.

“Our goal was to focus attention on the need for Catholic priests to serve as military chaplains and we received a tremendously positive response. The need is even more pressing today and we are privileged to continue our efforts through this new scholarship in honor of Father Capodanno,” Benson said.

One thought on “Catholic Couple Aims to Draw Chaplains to U.S. Military With Scholarship Named for Father Capodanno

  1. Thanks for sharing this story. We urge all Catholics with a connection to the military to make a donation to the Fr Capodanno Fund to help train more Catholic Chaplains!