Prayers answered

Story and photo by Christine June
U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern

***image1***Father Ronald Schmelzer is not only the answer to prayers from the U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern Chaplain’s Office, but also from parishioners at Daenner and Miesau chapels.

“I love working for the Army,” said Father Schmelzer, who arrived in Kaiserslautern in October and shortly after began celebrating Mass at the Daenner Chapel.

He is here on a one-year contract, renewable up to three years, thanks to an Army chief of chaplains’ program to increase Catholic coverage across Europe, said the garrison’s Staff Chaplain (Lt. Col.) William McCoy.

“My bishop has given me permission to be away for three years, and so it’s very likely that I will be here for three years,” said Father Schmelzer, whose diocese is in St. Cloud, Minn.

The garrison has not had a permanently-assigned Catholic priest for more than 10 years, said the garrison’s Deputy Staff Chaplain (Maj.) James Drake. Father Kaitangare Kaata had temporarily filled that void three times during the summer and holidays starting in 2005.

“A temp would be able to provide Mass, but wouldn’t be able to provide that pastoral responsibility and care from week to week, which Father Ron does as he is standing up his congregations more and more,” said Chaplain McCoy. “That’s truly a community element like you would find back in the states.”

Since his arrival, Father Schmelzer has been celebrating Mass every Sunday at the Daenner Chapel, and just a couple of weeks ago, he stood up the congregation at the Miesau Chapel. He has also been administering the sacraments, such as baptism and confessions, and conducting counseling and visiting community members at work, home and social functions.

The garrison provides religious support and services to a geographical area of 1,150 square miles. Chaplain McCoy said there are about 25 percent of Catholics, 25 percent of Protestants and 50 percent undeclared.

“Most of the people in our demographics are either Protestant or Catholic, and when it comes to Catholic ministry – being that it is so large a share of the personnel (here) – it’s terrific for them to have a Catholic priest,” said Chaplain McCoy.

During the 10-year vacancy, the Army population in the KMC was as high as about 22,000. The official Army population numbers are now half of what it was; however, the need has not decreased for the garrison to have a permanently-assigned Catholic priest.

“Having a dedicated civilian Catholic priest very much serves the needs of worshippers – military, civilian and retirees,” said Larry Zani, a parishioner at the Daenner Chapel. Mr. Zani attended Mass there more than 10 years ago until services were no longer available. He has now returned to the congregation due to Father Schmelzer’s arrival.

Mass at the Daenner Chapel is 11:30 a.m. Sunday with confessions starting at 10 a.m. The chapel is in Bldg. 3150 on Daenner Kaserne. Mass is 8:30 a.m. Sunday at the Miesau Chapel, Bldg. 1375 on Miesau Army Depot.

Father Schmelzer is available seven days a week. He can be reached at 493-4179.