Marine Corps Recruitment Depot
Contact: 1600 Henderson Ave, San Diego 619-524-8720 www.mcrdsd.marines.mil
Membership: “More than a thousand.”
Chaplain: Father Joseph Coffey
Born: Rochester, MN (grew up in Philadelphia)
Formation: La Salle College, Philadelphia; St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Philadelphia
Years Ordained: 22
San Diego Reader: Why did you become a priest?
Father Joseph Coffey: I was at a pro-life retreat in Pennsylvania, at the Malvern Retreat House, the oldest and largest lay-run retreat center in the country. There was a picture at the center of Jesus kneeling in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, and I knelt down at that moment and thought, “God wants me to be a priest.” I went home and told my parents, and they started crying [with joy], and my brothers and sisters said, “Well, we knew that you were going to be a priest years ago.” But they never bothered to tell me.
SDR: Why Catholic?
FC: I have had a chance to look at other religions over the years, and I’m convinced that Jesus Christ is who he says he is – Lord and the Son of God. He came to earth to save us from our sins and open the gates of heaven. The fulfillment of the truth resides in the Catholic Church even though there is much truth in other religions. I’ve never considered myself anything but Catholic, which means “universal,” and it’s the Church that Jesus founded. I’m glad to be a member of it and I hope to die a member of it.
SDR: What is your mission among the new recruits you serve?
FC: I’ve been on active duty as a Navy chaplain for the last 17 years and I feel it’s a blessing to do that kind of ministry. I celebrate Mass and hear confessions of Catholic recruits. I also make sure that other people of other faiths have the opportunity to worship. We have many different kinds of worship services for recruits of all different faith groups. We care for all, so that even if a recruit was an atheist, I would be very happy to help him with counseling or give him advice. I’m also the general’s chaplain, and so I would advise him on any spiritual, ethical, or religious matters that might come up.
SDR: Where is the strangest place you’ve found God?
FC: I really felt the presence of God saying Mass on the USS George Washington, one Easter Morning at sunrise, in the Persian Gulf. I thought, “I’m now saying Mass onboard an aircraft carrier in the water that God created, and I’m about to receive that same Lord in the Eucharist.” That was dramatic for me.
SDR: Where do you go when you die?
FC: I believe in heaven, and that it’s without pain, war, suffering, sin, or any of the bad things in this world. I also believe in human free will. If someone really doesn’t want any part of God, it would be awfully cruel of God to say, “Well, too bad, you’re stuck with me forever.” I think God honors our choices. That’s the scary part. So hell would be the absence of God forever, and I can’t think of a worse possible human thought than that. As for purgatory, it doesn’t make any sense to believe there is sin in heaven. Since most of us have done some pretty bad things in our lives, we’re going to need a little time of purification before we go to heaven, and that’s the purpose of purgatory.