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‘Strength and dignity are her clothing’: First of her generation candidate earns chaplain appointment

Colorado Army National Guard Chaplains surround Chaplain (Capt.) Mary St. Onge in prayer for her strength and to remind her she’s not alone in her ministry, at the Colorado National Guard headquarters in Centennial, Colo. As of Dec. 1, 2010, St. Onge is the COARNG’s newest chaplain and first female to hold the position in the entire CONG. St. Onge is assigned to the 193rd Military Police Battalion. (Official U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Cheresa D. Theiral, Colorado National Guard)

Colorado Army National Guard Chaplains surround Chaplain (Capt.) Mary St. Onge in prayer for her strength and to remind her she’s not alone in her ministry, at the Colorado National Guard headquarters in Centennial, Colo. As of Dec. 1, 2010, St. Onge is the COARNG’s newest chaplain and first female to hold the position in the entire CONG. St. Onge is assigned to the 193rd Military Police Battalion. (Official U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Cheresa D. Theiral, Colorado National Guard)

CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- For some, taking risks and breaking ground are difficult to fathom, while for others, it's a regular occurrence. And for most, such challenges - planned or unplanned - are how they find their rightful places on this earth.

For one Colorado Army National Guardsman, earning her chaplain's insignia was more than an answer to a prayer. It's her calling.

Chaplain (Capt.) Mary St. Onge answered that call in front of her family, friends and peers at the Colorado National Guard state headquarters in Centennial, Colo., Dec. 1.

Now, she's not only the first in her family to be a chaplain, but she's the first female chaplain in the Colorado National Guard.

"It's a huge responsibility and honor," said St. Onge. "It's going to be challenging and rewarding at the same time."

St. Onge, who was raised Catholic, became Protestant while attending the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, said her faith journey led her to this time and place, which is allowing her to minister to the Soldiers she's devoted her life to.

St. Onge, who graduated from West Point in 2002 with a degree in engineering, just didn't feel the career field fit her. In 2007 she joined the Colorado Army National Guard and planned to become a space operations officer with the 117th Space Battalion while she earned her master's degree in counseling from the Denver Seminary in Littleton, Colo.

Within her first several months in the Guard, another Soldier, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Peggy Escolopio, told Chaplain (Col.) Andy Meverden, the state chaplain, about St. Onge's academic pursuit, and Meverden began his mission of encouraging St. Onge to pursue chaplaincy.

On her first drill weekend to learn about the chaplain corps, Meverden and St. Onge were called to a local hospital to assist a CONG Soldier, who was on emergency leave from Iraq, and his family say bid their final farewells to their dying patriarch.

"She accompanied me and naturally offered comfort to the grieving family members in the process of saying goodbye," said Meverden.

When he inquired afterward - and after several other challenging situations - whether she still wanted to pursue chaplaincy, she answered a resounding "yes" each time, he said.

St. Onge's father, a career Army infantry officer and devout Catholic, was another one of the first to suggest St. Onge pursue military ministry.

After meeting with Meverden, consulting her family, attending a semester of seminary and learning more about women in ministry - along with some serious soul searching - St. Onge realized she was in the right place and became chaplain candidate. She then added to her academic pursuit a chaplaincy certificate of completion.

St. Onge is among the fourth generation of her family to serve in the Army and loves the Colorado National Guard because it's what she knows and it's what she needs: solid bonds with the Soldiers she loves and roots to plant her boots.

"The chaplaincy and Colorado are home," she said. "This fits with my passion for helping Soldiers."

In preparation for her appointment and her upcoming birthday, the 30-year-old self-described introvert spent the last year challenging herself to take positive risks and do things she wouldn't otherwise consider - like taking country line dance lessons and asking a man out on a date.

"Taking risks has been great for me," she said. "I've come to realize that I can risk failure in order to grow. I'm an imperfect human being, but God can still use me for His purposes - and that's exciting!" 

St. Onge is assigned to the 193rd Military Police Battalion.

"Strength and dignity are her clothing" from Proverbs 31:25, New American Standard Bible