Meet the Chaplain: Monsignor Stuart Swetland – Kansas City Chapter
Monsignor Stuart Swetland the co-chaplain of Legatus’ Kansas City, Missouri Chapter, serves as president of Donnelly College in Kansas City. Prior to being ordained a Catholic priest in 1991, Monsignor Swetland, 58, served his country as an officer in the U.S. Navy. The Naval Academy graduate later became a Rhodes Scholar, and he entered the Catholic Church while studying at Oxford. He hosts the daily radio show “Go Ask Your Father” on Relevant Radio. He spoke with Legatus Magazine staff writer Brian Fraga.
Why did you choose to attend the U.S. Naval Academy?
My parents brought us up to believe in service. At the time, being an 18-year- old making these kind of decisions, that was there, but I was also motivated by the fact that it was the best place where I could get a very good education affordably. It was a combination of the patriotic and the practical.
What were your naval assignments like after the academy?
I spent four years as a midshipman and six as an officer. I was commissioned after the Naval Academy. As a service line officer, I served on destroyers and frigates in my time in the military. I did some time on submarines as a midshipman, but as an officer I was on surface ships.
As a naval officer, you studied at the University of Oxford, where you decided to become Catholic. How did that happen?
I was attracted to the Church because of the truth. I was searching for the truth about faith and I was searching for the truth about how to live a moral life. I would not have even looked at the Catholic Church and its teachings if it hadn’t been for the fact that several of my closest friends at Oxford were devout Catholics who lived their faith. They were witnesses to a life well-lived, but they also had peace and joy, and I was looking for peace and joy. They gave witness to that in their daily life and in their scholarship, and that was very impressive.
How did you later discern that you were called to be a Catholic priest?
If you had asked me when was a young boy what I wanted to be when I grew up, I might well have answered a minister. We were Lutherans. As I grew up, I didn’t entertain that very seriously, but after I became Catholic some of those feelings came back. At the time, I was a new convert and my spiritual director prudently said that maybe you’re called to be a priest, but that also could be the zeal of a convert. So he said, “Practice your faith as a naval officer, then if you still feel this way in several years, then it might be something you need to investigate more fully.”
How does your military experience inform how you go about your priestly duties?
Some of the leadership and management techniques I learned in the military are applicable anywhere. Also, as a midshipman, I was asked to be involved in a project to teach about the just-war theory to enlisted sailors right after the trials following the Mai Lai massacre in Vietnam. That was one of my first introductions to the Catholic intellectual tradition. That was also one of the areas that I was very interested at Oxford in studying, and I’ve been asked in different settings to teach just-war theory. I still do from time to time as part of my teaching apostolate.
How did you come to be acquainted with Legatus?
I learned about Legatus when I was first asked to speak at a Legatus meeting in the 1990s when I was a chaplain at the University of Illinois. I had met Tom Monaghan when I was a seminarian and I was familiar with his witness and some of the things he was involved in.
What value do you see organizations like Legatus having for the Church?
I’ve always thought extremely highly of Legatus. I’m a great believer that we need peer groups for evangelization and support. I think it’s teachers who evangelize teachers, it’s students who evangelize students, it’s businessmen and women who evangelize businessmen and women. We need the support of someone who understands our vocation and our mission, to help us fight the good fight of faith in the world.
BRIAN FRAGA is Legatus magazine’s editorial assistant.