Reeson’s Ramblings :: March 18, 2018
While I was a reservist in the Air Force, I was required to go to the desert outside of Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas for survival training. Some people like to camp out and live off the land while evading an enemy during the heat of the day and the cold of the night. Some people think it’s fun to learn how to purify water, trap rabbits, and survive by capturing and eating a snake. I am not one of those people.
At the end of this training, I was miserable and hungry. After somehow surviving, I attended a dinner party at the home of a Catholic chaplain by the name of Dick Higgins, who was the priest there at Nellis. I was to run across this priest again and again during my Air Force career.
One time I had a four-day layover in Germany on my way to a deployment in Zagreb, Croatia, and Father Dick was one of the senior chaplains for the U.S. Air Forces in Europe. He took me to a reginal conference of the Military Council of Catholic Women, and later to a military base he was inspecting and an afternoon of wine tasting. He then graciously hosted a dinner for Army and Air Force priests in the area as a sendoff before my six-month deployment.
During my tour of duty in Okinawa, Japan, I ran into Chaplain Higgins again when I was passing through Hawaii, where he was one of the senior chaplains at Pacific Air Forces. And when I was the Cadet Wing Chaplain at the U.S. Air Force Academy Chapel, Dick was the chaplain for the base population that supported the Academy’s operations. It was kind of neat that I found myself living in the same Cadet Wing Chaplain’s house that he had lived in 10-years before. And as it turned out, it was not unusual for me to come home and find him in my kitchen preparing lunch on a Saturday or dinner on a Sunday! He made himself at home and made me feel at home. Four chaplains in the Colorado Springs area had motorcycles that we would occasionally ride into the mountains. He referred to my 450CC as a moped. It may be true that my motorcycle was a mini-bike compared to any of his three much larger cycles!
Over the years I would see him at many clergy conferences, retreats, and training conferences. When Dick retired from the Air Force, he planned to serve a small Colorado parish. But the Holy Father had other plans for him, and in 2004, he was named Bishop for the Archdiocese for the Military Services. I continued to see him often when he came to Turkey and Germany for pastoral visits and to confirm our young people.
When I retired from the Air Force five years ago, I thought I might not see him anymore but as a chaplain for the VA hospital, we’ve had time together at our yearly retreats and when he comes to the Omaha VA Hospital for inspections.
When I was assigned to St. Columbkille parish, which has so many currently serving and retired military families, I was not surprised to hear from a plethora of parishioners who also had crossed paths with Bishop Dick Higgins on numerous occasions. Several members of our parish have told me that Chaplain Higgins baptized their children, witnessed their marriages, brought them into the Church, guided them in their careers, eaten at their homes—he has been a part of many lives. I was honored that Bishop Dick Higgins invited me to be a part of the celebration of his 50th anniversary as a priest.