An Interview with Archbishop Timothy Broglio, BC '73

Archbishop Broglio leading evening prayer onboard the USS Iwo Jima.
Archbishop Broglio leading evening prayer onboard the USS Iwo Jima.

by David O'Neill


On April 17, The Torch had the honor of corresponding with the Most Reverend Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for Military Services. A Boston College alumnus himself, the Archbishop now leads the most geographically diverse American Catholic diocese; his flock extends across several continents, and his ministry requires extensive travel to reach them. This month, he spoke to The Torch about his undergraduate experience at BC, his challenges and blessings as a bishop, and his hopes for young Catholics.


The Torch. What led you to choose to attend BC?


Archbishop Broglio. The College counselor at the Jesuit preparatory school that I attended knew that I wanted to attend a Catholic college, but only recommended those sponsored by the Jesuits.  Consequently, I only visited those that he recommended. I think that I was very impressed with the offerings at BC, the setting of the campus, and the Honors Program which would allow me to enter Boston College as a sophomore with 18 hours of college credit.


T. Did you know you had a vocation to the priesthood before coming to Boston College?  If so, what led you to come to BC?


B. By the time I graduated from high school, I was convinced that the Lord was calling me to the diocesan priesthood, but I had two almost conflicting ideas. The first was to get about my Father’s business as soon as possible.  The second was to prepare in a way that would allow me to be effective. Hence, I thought that a non-seminary Catholic university experience would be most beneficial. It would allow me to spend more time with my peers.


T. Was the University helpful in your discernment? 


B. The University in 1970 was a child of its age. It had been shut down by a strike in the spring of that year. Protests against the Vietnam War were common. A short-haired, clean-shaven student stood out a bit. I think that the situation and student life outside of the classroom convinced me to go ahead regardless of the trends in student society. In a certain sense, my values were galvanized by the experience. At the same time, the professors and the class work were extremely rewarding. The professors who frequented the Classics Department were truly fine.


T. Did you ever think about joining the Society of Jesus? 


B. In high school I explored that idea, but really felt called to the Diocese of Cleveland and wanted to spend the rest of my life there (at present, I have only spent two years of active ministry in Cleveland!).


T. What was the Catholic community like at BC while you were a student? 


B. It was almost as if there were two Catholic communities. I generally participated at Mass at St. Mary’s Hall (the Jesuit residence) where Fr. Richard Shea, S.J., celebrated the noon Mass. There were many Jesuits on campus who had been a part of the mission to Baghdad. 


There was also Campus Ministry, which was more contemporary. I was not particularly active there, but my roommate for my first two years at BC was and kept me abreast of activities there.


T. Were there any priests or faculty who stood out to you in their witness to Christ as chaplains or professors?


B. I mentioned Father Shea, but there was also Father Sidney MacNeil, S.J., who “watched over me” during my years at BC. He had taught in Baghdad and retired to BC when the Jesuits were expelled from Iraq.


Dr. Margaret Schatkin was a vibrant professor who engaged me both in class and in an occasional activity (such as indexing a festschrift).


Prof. McCloud was another inspiring professor who encouraged my Latin studies. There are many more, but those along with Father David Gill stand out.


Through the Boston Theological Institute, I also took an Old Testament course at St. John’s Seminary with Fr. Philip King, one of the contributors to the Jerome Biblical Commentary.


T. Being that you serve on the board of Catholic Distance University, what do you think the purpose and role of a Catholic University ought to be in today’s world?


B. Fundamentally, Catholic universities were founded to deepen the faith and the intellectual training of Catholics. I think that, as St. John Paul II makes very clear in Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the Catholic university should pursue excellence in scholarship, but also form women and men in how to evaluate the world around them, how to make moral decisions, and how to grow in their faith. If the Catholic university is simply a carbon copy of what other institutions of higher learning accomplish, there is not much sense in expending energy and funds to maintain it. The Catholic identity is key. That does not mean excluding those who do not share the faith, but it does mean ensuring that those who graduate know what the Catholic faith is and what the Church teaches.


T. What led you to study classics at BC? Were you involved in any student organizations or sports? 


B. I wanted to have good Latin and Greek skills for my future study of theology.  After my first year at BC I learned about the Philosophy requirements necessary to enter a seminary school of theology and so I made certain that I met those requirements, as well.


I confess that trying to graduate in three years led me to concentrate on my studies and prayer life. I did not really belong to any organizations. Once the swimming pool opened, I would go down and swim laps late every afternoon.


T. Based on your own experience at BC, what are some tips that you would give to current Boston College students about growing in the faith while in college?


B. I would encourage students to take advantage of Mass and the sacraments and to learn as much as possible about Jesuit spirituality, the Spiritual Exercises, and the process of discernment. There is a tremendous richness there that will mold people for a lifetime.


T. What would you urge young Catholics to pray for? 


B. First and foremost, I would urge them to pray for peace and justice. Educated Catholics must make a difference and contribute to a more just world. We have to elevate discourse in our society so that it is civil and that all people recognize in others the image and likeness of God. I would also urge them to pray for ecclesial vocations (to the priesthood, religious, and consecrated life).


T. You returned to campus not too long ago to speak at a Veteran’s Day Ceremony. How has your ministry to the military community challenged you in different ways?


B. A primary challenge is the shortage of priests in the chaplaincy. There are some 200 in uniform.  Some 300 more are needed.  I have no hope of plugging that gap.


An additional challenge is constituted by the distances which are the reality of a personal archdiocese. My faithful are literally in every corner of the globe. Travel is a constant. Despite having four Auxiliary Bishops who are most diligent, I spend 200+ days on the road every year.


Of concern also are those who suffer from Post Traumatic Syndrome Disorder (PTSD). 153 Veterans Medical Centers are also a part of the AMS. We must respond to the needs of these good people.


Touching also about the Veterans’ Day Ceremony was hearing the list of names of fellow alumni who had fallen in the service of our Country. May Almighty God give them rest.


T. What about that ministry has been most fruitful for you?


B. Pastoral care for men, women, and families who have been enduring the rigors of war for almost eighteen years has allowed me to reach out to them, to assure them of the Church’s care and interest in them, and to be with them in the moments of their reception of the sacraments.  Certainly Holy Week in Iraq and Afghanistan and Christmas in Afghanistan have been high points of my tenure.


T. What most touches you about the faith of the Catholics in your diocese?


B. The fidelity of those who spend long weeks or months without seeing a priest touch me. The ability of military families to step in and meet needs is also most evident.


T. With such a large diocese, is it difficult to connect with individuals? If a member of your diocese could only know one thing about you, what would you want it to be?   


B. As I mentioned, one of the challenges is the extension of the AMS. I think that I would want the faithful entrusted to my pastoral care to know of my deep concern for them and my desire to walk the extra mile with them. I am not a manager or a CEO, but a pastor.


T. What can Catholics who are civilians do to help the Archdiocese for the Military Services? 


B. Civilians can pray for peace, for the military, and for vocations (the military is the largest source of priestly ordinations in the USA today). Secondly, the AMS is totally supported by free-will offerings. Consequently, any support received is used wisely and greatly appreciated.


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