An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Feature Search

Joint Base Andrews Features

NEWS | Jan. 11, 2009

The flying priest -- Bishop makes stop on Andrews

By Pacifica Chehy Capital Flyer Staff Writer

A young congregant watched closely as a man dressed in his liturgical vestments, miter and staff, slowly made his way from the altar down to the crowd inside Chapel 3, which was beginning to dissipate out the door after the conclusion of the Sunday service. As the boy made his way to the cloaked figure, a bold question formed in his throat. Stopping just before the figure, the boy did not hesitate.

"Can I ask you why you're dressed in that pointy hat and carrying that pole in your hand," the boy asked.

The man's lips curled into a smile, and after only a moment he answered the boy, speaking slow while he spouted his wisdom.

"Maybe you'll be a priest someday and wear something like what I'm wearing. We need good men like you: inquisitive. That's a good thing," said the Most Reverend Richard B. Higgins, the auxiliary bishop for the Military Services Archdiocese, and a retired Air Force colonel. Bishop Higgins was once a boy, too, and he knew his calling was to be both a pilot and a priest.

"My senior year in high school, I signed up for an airline school and I had also signed up for the seminary," said Bishop Higgins, "So that summer, I graduated from high school and I hadn't told my parents about the airline business. One morning I came down the stairs for breakfast and my mother met me at the bottom of the stairs with a letter that was from the flying school. She asked me, 'What happened? I thought you wanted to be a priest.' So I kind of compromised. I declined the airline school so I could go to the seminary first."

Today, Bishop Higgins has a pilot's license and a number of flying instructor certificates. His main goal professionally is to provide priests that are so desperately needed in the military.

"We provide Catholic chaplains for the military and are responsible for chapels throughout the military including all branches of service," said Bishop Higgins.
And he does just that. There are about 1.3 million members in the Military Services Archdiocese world-wide, which includes both military members and their families. Where ever there is a military base, there are priests, said Bishop Higgins. The challenge, as he calls it, is that there aren't enough priests to go around.
"We need more priests," said Bishop Higgins.

In his travels, he estimates that he visits on average about 155 installations per year, in addition to his visits to Veteran's Affairs medical centers. Altogether, he is on the road over 200 days every year. "This year, I spent 87 days in Europe and put 11,000 kilometers on the car."

Thanks to his Air Force career, Bishop Higgins also has seen the world from his assignments in places as varied as Iceland and Hawaii, and every place in between. His final assignment even landed him at the United States Air Force Academy.

As a whole, his ministry is dedicated to serving those who serve the military ranks.
"I'm here for the priests," said Bishop Higgins, "They minister to the military members and their families and I minister to them. I'm here for them."