By MARINELLA LENTIS
For The Catholic Week
MONTGOMERY — Every year Montgomery area parishes experience a turnaround of new parishioners who come from all over the U.S. and stay for as short as 90 days and as long as three years: Air Force families.
The capital city has been home to military families since 1918 when a former flying school started by the Wright Brothers was turned into an Air Service airfield and maintenance depot which was renamed Maxwell Field in the 1920s and later into its current Maxwell Air Force Base.
Temporarily assigned to the Montgomery base, officers come to attend one of the many schools at the Air University, whether the Squadron Officer School, the Air Command and Staff College, the Air War College or the School of Advanced Space Studies. While here with their families, their children attend Montgomery Catholic Preparatory School or are homeschooled, are seen serving at Mass, getting involved in youth groups and volunteering in the community.
No matter where they come from and for how long they reside in the area, military families bring new experiences and enrich the life of the local Catholic community while receiving first hand southern hospitality.
“We were welcomed into the Catholic community here in Montgomery with open arms,” says Carly Hale, wife of U.S. Air Force Major Matt Hale and mother of six children.
“It was so nice to feel like we fit in right away. Since our family does not live here locally, we really look to our parish family to fill the role as our family away from home. Holy Spirit Catholic Parish has taken on that role with flying colors.”
It is not always easy for military families who frequently move to feel like they belong in the new place they are settling in, but for the Hales, Holy Spirit parishioners have taken an active role in making them feel at home.
“I think Holy Spirit offers a unique experience because it is a very blended community. There are a lot of military families that call it their church home and because of our diverse life experiences, we are all able to support and encourage one another in different ways,” she said.
She and her husband moved to Montgomery in early July so Matt could attend the Air Command and Staff College (ACSC) and could leave as early as June.
Dene Galloway, wife of Lt. Col. Doug Galloway, shared similar experiences.
A newcomer to Montgomery and here for one year as well, she and her family arrived in late July and will leave early next summer.
She fell in love with her parish priests at St. Bede the Venerable and with Montgomery Catholic, where two of her four sons are enrolled in high school this year while the other two are being homeschooled.
“It’s been wonderful, we’ve enjoyed it and there’s been nothing but positive,” she commented of both the parish and the school.
“We love St. Bede and its people, they are fabulous and have been very welcoming and kind.”
Through a friend who had been previously stationed in Montgomery, Galloway had heard about MCPS and spoke to the high school counselor while still in Germany, her husband’s prior assignment.
“The question for me was, is this truly Catholic or is it only going to be Catholic in name only?” she said.
Once the counselor explained what goes on at the school, Galloway was sold.
“The school has been great. They have just opened their arms and their hearts and we are truly enjoying our experience at Catholic,” she stated.
What Galloway loves the most about Montgomery though, is the community among the churches, something she has never seen in other places where her family has lived.
“It’s not that we just go to St. Bede and everything we do is at St. Bede and we can’t go to Holy Spirit or can’t participate in their events,” she admitted. “I go to Mass at St. Bede and then Mass at the school. I go to adoration at Our Lady Queen of Mercy and then Bible study at Holy Spirit and that is only in one week. I feel it very much as a flow and that you’re welcome in each and every community.”
As a former Montgomery resident who now lives in Maryland where she followed her husband, Major Nicolais Chighizola, on his new assignment, Laura Chighizola misses the community she left behind. Her family was in Montgomery from June 2016 to July 2018 and had a wonderful experience with the local Catholic community.
“Holy Spirit had family adoration which was very helpful for new families who were trying to fit in and just had different things parishioners were doing to welcome military families.”
She remembers one time when a friend whose husband had been deployed had some serious health issues and everybody came together to help and offer support, both spiritual and material.
“It was wonderful.”
During her two years in Montgomery, Chighizola was able to figure out how she could contribute to the community and soon found herself joining the local moms’ group and organizing playgroups, spreading the Divine Mercy devotion, providing music for her parish and eventually writing her own music for its Vacation Bible School. “Wonderful things are happening in the Catholic community,” she stated. “It’s amazing.”
By MARINELLA LENTIS