EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 28, 2008

Priest recruited to talk to military personnel about vocations

By Yadira Betances

METHUEN — He has never served in the military, but the Rev. John McLaughlin is taking over a new job in which he will help men and women in the armed forces decide if they should become priests and nuns.

Tuesday, McLaughlin, pastor of St. Monica Parish in Methuen, becomes the first national vocations director for the Archdiocese of the Military, USA. In his post, he will not join the military, but travel to bases across the country, work alongside military chaplains, and talk to men and women about religious vocations.

On Sunday, McLaughlin celebrates his last Mass at St. Monica, 212 Lawrence St., before heading to Washington, D.C.

McLaughlin was contacted by the Archdiocese of the Military, and took the job with the blessing of his boss, Cardinal Sean O'Malley of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston.

"The cardinal allowed me to accept because of Boston's continued support of those in the military service," he said in the church's bulletin when he made the announcement.

"I'll just tell them what it means to me to be in religious life and the joy you get working with people," McLaughlin, 50, said.

"That's all. It's not up to me to bring them in. It's God's will. All things are possible with God. If God has a hand in it, it will happen."

Thomas Hargreaves, director of veterans services in Methuen, said there may be several reasons why a person in the military might consider a religious vocation.

He said many of the recruits enter the military at a young age when they don't know what direction to take in their lives.

McLaughlin said the military archdiocese did not want someone with ties to a particular branch of the armed forces, but said that his father, Jake, was a Marine veteran of the Korean War.

McLaughlin has mixed feelings about leaving St. Monica, where he has been pastor for the past three years.

"People are understanding, especially because it is the military and because we have so many veterans here," he said.

McLaughlin, himself, was late to becoming a priest. He was a high school wrestling coach and real estate agent prior to joining the priesthood.

A Woburn native, McLaughlin started wrestling in his sophomore year at Woburn High School and continued at Boston College, where he received a liberal arts degree.

During his junior year at Boston College, McLaughlin was stabbed from behind while walking through Faneuil Hall in Boston two days before Christmas. Last year, he had to get his 11th operation related to the original injury.

McLaughlin was the wrestling coach at his high school alma mater for eight years, with a record of 109-32, winning two state championships and two league titles.

In his years as a priest, McLaughlin has served at St. Clement in Somerville and St. Mary in Foxborough. While at St. Mary, he led pregame prayers for the New England Patriots, saying he is 9-0 on his blessings. He also has helped build two churches and a retreat house in China.

Final Mass

What: The Rev. John McLaughlin celebrates his last Mass before going to his new job as national vocations director of the Archdiocese of the Military, USA.

When: Sunday at 11:30 a.m.

Where: St. Monica, 212 Lawrence St. Reception follows in school hall.