New chaplain comes from eclectic background
February 10, 2014
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - Maj. James B. Collins was answering a lifelong calling when he decided to become a Catholic priest. It just took him a while to realize it.
From working as an investigative specialist for the Federal Bureau of Investigation to living in a seminary, to subsequently serving as an officer in the U.S. Army Reserve and the Army National Guard and an active-duty U.S. Army personnel member, Collins -- who is the new APG Main Post Catholic chaplain -- says his journey to serve his faith and country is an example that everything in life happens for a reason.
"If it wasn't for the FBI, I wouldn't have become a priest because the people in the FBI helped bring me back to the faith," said Collins, a native of Elizabeth, N.J. "If it wasn't for the seminary and wanting to become a priest, I wouldn't have gone into the Army."
After graduating from what was then known as Jersey City State College in Jersey City, N.J., with a bachelor of arts degree in media arts, Collins began working for the FBI in New York. He served in that capacity for seven years, living on Manhattan?'s Upper East Side.
"I loved the city and Central Park and all of the delis and bagels and pizza," said Collins, whose office wall is filled with New York subway signs. "It's all at your fingertips. … I didn't think I needed God. I had my job in Manhattan. I hadn't gone to confession in eight years."
But during this time, Collins, a former altar boy who as a child used to pretend he was a Catholic priest, said he reconnected with his faith -- when a work friend invited him to attend his church -- and felt a desire to become a priest. He describes the calling as feeling ?"a state of grace."
"My decision [to join the seminary] wasn't immediate," he said. "I felt like God was calling me to serve, but I also had to think, 'What will my life be like?' You have to take that into account."
Collins said he attended a retreat for "discerning" the priesthood and chatted with the late New York Archbishop John Joseph O'Connor before finalizing his decision. "I said to him, 'I'm not worthy to be a priest,' " Collins recalled. "He said to me, 'No one is worthy, but Christ makes us worthy. ... If you think God is calling you, give it a try.'"
Collins then attended several chaplain discernment retreats before making the decision to enter the priesthood. He subsequently spent seven years in St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y. before being officially ordained in 2004 as a priest at New York?'s historic St. Patrick's Cathedral.
He served congregations in Staten Island, The Bronx and the Upper West Side.
Being at the seminary led Collins to the Army Reserve. He said a friend at the seminary suggested in the summer of 1999 that they take an Army chaplaincy course in Fort Jackson, Ga. "I always wanted to wear a uniform and lose a few pounds," Collins said with a laugh. "The idea of being a priest and being in uniform was really attractive to me. So I figured I'd stick with it and see what happens."
Collins has since served as the priest for the New York Army National Guard (assigned to the 101st Cavalry Regiment) and in Kuwait (with 27th Brigade Combat Team), and has also worked with other chaplains in Germany and South Korea. His position at APG, which he began last September, is his first as active duty assignment with the U.S. Army.
"As a priest I now know what people are going through when they come back [to the Church] from a long time," Collins said. "I want to build a community and a parish centered around God so more people can have the experience of His Holy Spirit."
He said part of his job as the post Catholic chaplain is to ensure that everyone feels welcome returning to the Church. Collins said his main function at the Main Post Chapel at APG is being a leader for the Catholic community. He said about 15 to 20 people come to daily mass and approximately 150 on Sunday mornings.
"[My goals] are to build the parish, open the doors, bring more people in to spread the message of hope, love and peace, to spread the message of the Gospel, and to serve the people I've been assigned to and to do the best I can," Collins said.
So far, he said he feels welcomed by everyone at APG. "I like it," he said. "The Catholic community and everybody is very welcoming. It's something different than what I have done before. I enjoy it."
Collins welcomes APG community members to join him for Catholic Mass and confessional at APG and APG South.
"Being a priest," he said, "we're here to serve God, country and the Church."
Sunday: Aberdeen Chapel 8:46 a.m., Edgewood Chapel 10:45 a.m.
Monday: Aberdeen Chapel 11:45 a.m.
Tuesday: Aberdeen Chapel 11:45 a.m.
Wednesday: Edgewood Chapel noon
Thursday: Aberdeen Chapel 11:45 a.m.
Friday: Edgewood Chapel noon
Monday: 12:15 p.m. Aberdeen Chapel
Wednesday: 11:30 a.m. Edgewood Chapel
By appointment and following Mass