With his right hand raised, just steps away from the very spot he was baptized, Father Jeremy Theis took a solemn oath May 26 to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic” and to “bear true faith and allegiance to the same,” so help him God.
Father Theis was sworn in as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve at his home parish of Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Richmond in the presence of his parents — Deacon Jerry and Renee Theis — the parish’s pastor, Benedictine Father Edward Vebelun, and a few close friends. The ceremony marked the beginning of the next phase of his journey toward becoming a military chaplain.
When Father Theis turned 17, he joined the Army and served in an infantry unit and combat engineer unit. Later, when he was discerning the priesthood, he considered the idea of becoming a military chaplain after hearing of the extreme shortage.
“It’s a real problem that our troops on the front lines do not have regular access to the sacraments of confession or the Eucharist,” Father Theis said in a 2016 interview with The Visitor.
He was ordained a priest in 2014 and currently serves as pastor of the parishes of St. Mary in Upsala, St. Edward in Elmdale and St. Francis of Assisi in St. Francis.
After a yearlong process of evaluations and testing, this step marks Father Theis’ official entrance back into the military.
The next stage is to be assigned to a unit and begin his training, which he anticipates will take place in Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
“It’s important for people to know that I am considered reserve status,” Father Theis said. “That means I will still be able to serve my parishes here in the diocese with the help of other priests who will fill in for me as needed. It’s a great privilege to serve in this way.”
Father Theis’ longtime friend U.S. Army Capt. Drew Larson performed the honor of swearing in Father Theis. Larson is stationed in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, with the 101st Airborne Division. The two met when Father Theis was teaching junior high in Willmar before he entered the seminary. Larson was in seventh grade.
“I was sitting in his classroom when the second plane hit the tower on 9/11,” Larson recalled. “Someone asked if we were going to have class that day, and I remember [Father Theis] saying, ‘You’re watching history in the making.’”
The two formed a bond over the years. Father Theis also coached Larson in wrestling. Larson later asked Father Theis to be his confirmation sponsor, and last year Father Theis celebrated the marriage of Larson and his wife, Alex. Larson’s parents, Jim — a retired Army colonel — and his wife, Rose, attended the swearing in.
“The role of the chaplain is very critical,” Drew Larson said. “The morale and the mental well-being of the soldiers is so important. I think [Father Theis] will be the best chaplain. He already knows what the soldiers are going through and what type of person it takes to be a soldier. His experience will help him get closer to soldiers because he understands, because he’s been in those uncertain situations. He will bring the best of both worlds.”
Father Theis plans to perform his reserve duty requirements one weekend a month and two weeks per year. The location has not yet been decided but will likely be within a two-hour drive from St. Cloud.
“There’s such a shortage of chaplains, especially priests,” Father Theis said. “[It] is so important to be able to receive the Eucharist, reconciliation and last rites. I want to be able to offer that to them, especially given the nature of the sacrifice that they are making.”