Samuel McPeak was born to two American heroes, who were dual army officers in the United States Army and stationed in Fort Lee, Va.
McPeak spoke with ChurchPOP about his life growing up and how his call to serve in the United States Military became his call to serve our Lord.
Being raised in a military household with two career Army officers for parents, McPeak shared that love of country was instilled in him at an early age. To no surprise, he dreamed of attending West Point like his grandfather had and knew he wanted to be a Logistics officer or logistician in the Army like his parents.
In 2016, his dreams came true.
Just 17 days after high school graduation, he reported to the Academy for Cadet Basic Training. However, he recalls that he knew God had other plans for his life.
McPeak shared that while he felt pulled to the priesthood in high school, he put the idea on pause to pursue his military career.
“The reason why I wanted to go to West Point in particular was because of my grandfather," McPeak told ChurchPOP. "He was a 1938 graduate and served with great distinction in World War II and Korea.”
Samuel’s mother retired from the U.S. Army in 2009 after approximately 22 years of service, while his father retired in 2016 after approximately 35 years of service.
With a year and a half of West Point training under his belt, he felt a stronger call to the priesthood.
“God had other plans for me than to graduate from the Academy,” McPeak said.
McPeak explained that while he was at West Point, he experienced anxiety from the lifestyle change, the stress of training, and an overall culture shock.
“Growing up around the military and being in the military are two different things,” he said.
He then expressed the need he saw for Army chaplains and could no longer ignore the vocation the Lord clearly had for him.
He described his ever-growing relationship with God, Our Blessed Mother, and his admiration for Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.
He shared that reverence of the Traditional Latin Mass helped his desire to pursue the priesthood since the Diocese of Richmond allows the FSSP to operate two parishes in the diocese.
“I felt this call to be there for the struggling soldiers because I was a struggling soldier when I was a cadet at West Point. I just remember the Catholic Chaplain there, which is the reason I’m here today - Father Matthew Pawlikowski," McPeak elaborated.
"He made me realize that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to help soldiers spiritually and mentally, and hopefully be an example of holiness.”
Unfortunately, West Point does not commission officers in the Chaplain Corps, so McPeak resigned and transferred to the University of Richmond in 2018 to fully commit to discernment.
After graduating and being commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, McPeak now studies at the Theological College at the Catholic University of America under the Diocese of Richmond, Va. He currently serves with the Army Reserves and is an official Chaplain Candidate.
Samuel expressed his gratitude for the new friends he's made at CUA, especially those who share his military experiences, as it reaffirms his vocation.
“A lot of people don’t understand what it’s like to go through those experiences. We can reminisce on the things that happened in the military and we can all relate to having gone through training," he explained.
“I currently work as a Catholic chaplain in some capacity. It can be hard to align your morality with the morality of the military, but I’ve found that the military is a great place to practice ministry. In what other capacity as a priest do you have to really live out the call Pope Francis gave us, which is to be 'shepherds with 'the smell of the sheep.'"
McPeak mentioned his vocation unites two causes he is dedicated to: his love for the Lord and ministering to soldiers and veterans in a meaningful way.
In between classes, McPeak currently assists at the Arlington National Cemetery and helps with funerals while shadowing chaplains there. This gives him the opportunity to speak with family members whose loved ones have passed away and really understand what it means to counsel.
He also teaches seventh-grade confirmation classes and supports the altar servers at Sunday Masses for Saint Ambrose Catholic Church in Annandale, Va.
“When I become ordained, I will first serve three years as a Diocesan priest, then be released to go into active duty for the Army. That will include duties like counseling, advising the commander on moral and morale issues, providing religious support for soldiers, and religious support for Catholics by administering the sacraments,” McPeak said.
“I hope to see myself as an instrument of God’s mercy in the smallest way; to show kindness, and willingness to talk. That does wonders," McPeak continued. "I always remember that as a cadet at West Point, I just needed a little bit of grace and a little bit of mercy. The only place I found it was in the chaplain.”
If all goes as planned, Samuel McPeak will be ordained a priest in 2029.
“Please pray for me and my brother seminarians, that we may clearly discern God’s will in our lives.”
As we celebrate Veterans Day in gratitude for those who fought for our country, like Sam’s parents, he shared some advice.
As a Chaplain candidate and current Army officer, he witnesses the great support currently needed for our soldiers and veterans.
“A lot of veterans just want to tell their story and the best thing people can do is just listen to them," McPeak explained. "If they’re struggling, walk together with them and pray for them.”
While Nov. 11 marks the official holiday set aside to celebrate our veterans, 24 hours will never be enough. To the men and women who have selflessly served our country, ready and willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, thank you. We are forever indebted to you and your courage will never be forgotten.