The San Diego-based group was started by two Navy officers on pilgrimage.
What started out as a ministry to help Catholics in the military live their faith more faithfully is now embracing military families and veterans — and civilians who want to support them.
Based at St. Brigid’s parish in San Diego, California, close to a number of military bases, the Capodanno Society seeks to “provide community and resources to military Catholics, their families, and friends in order to achieve vocational and spiritual excellence,” according to its mission statement.
The Capodanno Society is named for Fr. Vincent R. Capodanno, a Maryknoll priest and Navy chaplain who was killed in Vietnam in 1967. Members look to the fact that he both earned the Medal of Honor, the highest U.S. military decoration, and may very well one day be declared a saint, said Society co-founder Noreen Domingo.
“We want to emphasize the pursuit of one’s career, or life work, and relationship to God go hand in hand and feed into each other,” Domingo said in an interview. “The importance of the community is to foster an ‘iron sharpens iron’ mindset and create an environment where people feel encouraged and supported. In leadership, we are taught to have someone you want to be like to be mentored by, and have someone to mentor. It is through those two levels and embodying our own present, we really become mindful of our own discernment and pursuit in Christ. Our hope is to have that pursuit reflected on the work we bring to build the kingdom in our professional spaces or current chapter in life.”
Inspiring talks and polar plunges
Domingo founded the Capodanno Society in 2018 along with David Murphy, a Navy pilot, when the two went on a 50-mile pilgrimage of the Spanish missions of California. Domingo, at the time a recent graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and a newly-commissioned officer, struck up a conversation with Murphy on ways to face challenges as a Catholic in the military.
The society hosts monthly dinners, where members hear talks and are able to form community. Younger military personnel can network with those who have been in the service longer and can share wisdom and advice from their experience.
“We could have someone come in who’s brand new to the military, maybe a junior enlisted, and you could have a retired general right next to you,” Domingo said. “It’s about being able to get together and share.”
Speakers have included Bishop Joseph L. Coffey of the Archdiocese for Military Services, on “spiritual warfare;” retired Navy Seal Capt. Adam Curtis, who is now a permanent deacon, on Christ-based leadership, and Elena Murdock, founder of Mission to Launch, and Peter van de Voorde, a Marine Corps veteran, on how to incorporate prayer and spiritual excellence into career transitioning.
Other talks have focused on “How To Talk About and Share Your Faith In an Approachable Way” based on St. John Paul II’s New Evangelization, and “Routine in Quarantine,” comparing deployment to COVID-era lockdowns and probing ideas for dealing with both from a faith perspective.
Among the society’s activities is a Pre-Lent Polar Plunge, where participants can take a swim in the chilly waters of the Pacific Ocean. One purpose of the event is to “teach kids how to give up certain comforts (asceticism) to learn about how to fast during Lent,” Domingo said.
At the request of the Archdiocese for Military Services, members of the Capodanno Society teach catechism at the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot San Diego.
During the pandemic, the Society teamed up with Modern Catholic Pilgrim to encourage members to go on local pilgrimages to a church dedicated to the Mother of God.
Members also have participated in a 5K run to honor the victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and have collaborated on sending care packages to deployed members and rosary beads to a Marine who leads a rosary group in Okinawa, Japan.
Though the Society has not expanded much beyond San Diego and Japan, Domingo is hoping to see future chapters elsewhere.
Murphy, who has since relocated to South Bend, Indiana, recently told The Southern Cross, San Diego’s diocesan newspaper, that he hopes that through the Capodanno Society, people will encounter the group’s namesake.
Fr. Capodanno “showed that even in the military, in the throes of combat, in the difficulties of deployment, amidst a battalion of infantry Marines, sanctity and holiness is possible. I hope, through meeting this saint, people see that they can incorporate their faith into their daily lives and military careers.”