By Colleen Mar
Originally published in The Eagle Review
Roller coasters are a funny thing. The unknowns of the ups and downs and twists and turns thrill and scare at the same time. A ride on a roller coaster is exhilarating.
When Fr. Dan Swartz ‘07 was sorting out what he would do with his life he embraced the unknowns, diving into a variety of experiences that led him to the dual role of priest and Navy officer.
Swartz entered St. Vincent College as a soccer player majoring in political science. After taking a course in counter terrorism he found himself hanging out with the Marine crowd on campus and feeling drawn to serving the country. He was a couple of weeks away from commissioning in the marines when his plans began to abruptly shift.
“It was like an ice ball in my stomach, not like before playing sports with the adrenaline rush but more like ‘You’re doing something wrong,” he said. “So I prayed about that and told God, if this is not what you want me to do, you’re going to have to be loud because the Marines are really loud.”
A couple of days later Swartz dislocated an elbow. Message received.
“I was still on the soccer team but not loving it because the moral situation on the team was not very supportive,” Swartz said. “I didn’t like the person I could become if I continued down that path.”
He took some time off from soccer and college and went to be a missionary for the summer. “I did what any sane college guy would do: I left the country,” he joked. Swartz ended up spending a year in Europe, going wherever he was needed to speak English.
“I got to see a lot of Europe and how the Catholic Church is universal, how she helps to guide individuals and cultures,” said Swartz. “I fell in love with the Church: the mystical body, the history, the architecture, all of it. I didn’t know if I was going to be a priest but I knew I needed to try something.”
He decided during that missionary year to apply to seminaries. But first he returned to St. Vincent College to finish degrees in political science, philosophy and theology with a minor in Latin.
“I was looking at my last year in college and I wanted to do something different, something fun,” he said. “Once you give up your sport, what do you do? Be a Shakespearean actor!”
Swartz got involved in campus ministry, another next experience.
“New things do scare me but I just think, ‘Let’s try it anyway.’”
After graduating from St. Vincent he went on to attend the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, earning his master of divinity degree and additional degrees in scripture and theology. He then felt called to serve as a military chaplain and was commissioned into the United States Navy Chaplain Corps as an ensign in January 2015. He was ordained as a priest May 28, 2016.
Swartz has spent the last several years serving in parishes in the Diocese of Columbus, first as an associate pastor at St. Matthew in Gahanna for a year and most recently for a consortium of four parishes in Perry County, Ohio, going from being based at a single parish to spending much more time driving. Serving four parishes requires flexibility as we as a full tank of gas.
“From the experience so far in Perry County I have become more intentional about being present, to visit people where they’re at. Also, a four-parish assignment requires a little more adaptability. I might go into the day with expectations of what I can accomplish but in the end I’m happy if I get to two or three things on my list.”
Since his Naval commissioning he has had seasonal training in places such as Norfolk, VA., Newport, R.I., Quantico, VA., and Ft. Jackson, S.C.
In July he will transition from his assignment in Perry County to a military deployment; it is still to be decided where Swartz is being deployed.
Given his current pastoral assignment serving four parishes, Swartz will probably adjust quickly to serving in the military whether it is being embedded with the Marines or being stationed on a ship and having to be flown around to the other ships in the fleet.
“There is a science and an art to serving as a military chaplain,” said Swartz. “You have to design programming for a very specific community of a warship, Marine battalion or war fleet. The people you’re serving are there in a spirit of sacrifice to help the country project influence or authority. They have been provided with the structures, rhythms and disciplines so that they are able to not just survive in that intense environment. They’re also human beings who want to be fed spiritually. They are brothers, sisters, husbands, and wives.”
Answering the dual calls of priesthood and military service may have positioned Swartz to help men and women who are serving in the United States.
“I was drawn to the self sacrifice and being a part of something bigger than myself, which is prevalent in the military,” he said. “The Lord uses what is initially interesting to you to draw you in and he did that with me with the military.”
No doubt God has also prepared Swartz for the many – literally and figuratively – ups and downs he will experience in the Navy.