time capsule

Published October 1, 2011

Pre-Christian era: Ancient Hebrew and pagan priests accompany their respective armies into battle to uplift the troops and to perform auguries and sacrifices.

4th century ad: After the death of Bishop Martin of Tours, a former soldier who cut off part of his cloak for a beggar, a group of custodian clergy carry a piece of the saint’s cloak-a capella-into battle as a religious relic. They become known as capellani or chaplains.

12th and 13th centuries: With the Crusades, the chaplain’s role becomes more clearly defined, giving him responsibility for the spiritual and moral welfare of the troops. He also has temporal duties, including those of paymaster, medical officer or clerk. A knight’s household chaplain accompanies him and his vassals to war, ensuring Christian burial and notifying families of deaths in the field.

1576: Chaplain Robert Wolfall of the Frobisher expedition conducts the first non-Roman Catholic church service on board a ship.

1758-59: Presbyterian services for Scottish regiments begin at Louisbourg and Quebec.

1796: The English Parliament establishes the Royal Army Chaplains’ Department. The Rev. John Gamble becomes the first chaplain general of England. Reforms reduce chaplains’ non-religious obligations, allowing them to concentrate on sacramental and pastoral duties.
u18th and 19th centuries: British chaplains accompany troops sent to protect British colonies in North America during armed conflicts with France and America, including the American Revolution and the War of 1812.

1802: The British Army allows Roman Catholic padres to serve in its ranks.

1885: A small number of Canadian clergy serve with troops during the North West Rebellion; they disband at the war’s conclusion.

1899-1902: Canadian clergy are sent to serve with troops in the South African (Boer) War.

1914-18: World War I sees the emergence of the modern chaplaincy, with 524 chaplains, both Protestant and Catholic, serving in the Canadian Chaplain Service. Chaplains bravely enter No Man’s Land, bringing aid and comfort in the trenches to the wounded and dying.

Post WWI: The Canadian Chaplain Service shuts down; there is no chaplaincy authority in Ottawa.

1939-45: World War II prompts the establishment of two Chaplain Branches-one Protestant and the other Roman Catholic. About 900 chaplains serve with the Army-500 with the Royal Canadian Air Force and 100 with the Royal Canadian Navy. Jewish rabbis also serve.

Post WW II: All three Canadian Services maintain a reduced but permanent chaplaincy. Provided with offices, chapels and staff, they now minister not only to military personnel but also to their families. Protestant chaplains serve all non-Roman Catholic groups. “Onward Christian Soldiers” becomes the official March Past of the Protestant Chaplaincy.

Cold War: Canadian chaplains serve in major peacekeeping, UN and NATO missions such as those in Egypt, Congo, Cyprus and the Golan Heights.

1958: The three separate chaplaincy branches (land, sea, air) are partially integrated, and three chaplains general with the rank of brigadier-general are appointed, along with three deputy chaplains-general-one from each branch of the forces.

1967: With the Reorganization Act of the Armed Forces, the three chaplain services become two: the Chaplain Branches-Protestant and Roman Catholic. Chaplains now wear uniforms not associated with a military branch but with distinctive badges featuring the Maltese cross. They now serve in army, navy and airforce environments.

1986: Chaplains return to wearing branch-specific uniforms, but their postings are not restricted to their military affiliations.

1980s and 1990s: Chaplains provide spiritual and pastoral care to
Canadian troops serving in Sinai, the former Yugoslavia,
Haiti and Rwanda.

1993: The Canadian Forces Chaplain School and Centre open, ensuring that all chaplains receive the same high-quality training. It quickly establishes an international reputation for excellence.

1995: The Protestant and Roman Catholic chaplaincies join in an administrative union under one chaplain general at the strategic level. In 1996,
the operational and tactical levels follow suit.

2011: The chaplaincy remains committed to its ministry of presence and to better preparing padres to respond to the changing profile of the Canadian Armed Forces.


  • Diana Swift

    Diana Swift is an award-winning writer and editor with 30 years’ experience in newspaper and magazine editing and production. In January 2011, she joined the Anglican Journal as a contributing editor.

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