In the 40 years since his ordination as a priest for the Archdiocese of Washington, Msgr. Karl Chimiak has held many job titles: parochial vicar, pastor, Maryland State Police chaplain, United States Air Force chaplain and colonel. But, he says the title he is most proud of is “Father.”

“First and foremost, I am a priest and will always be a priest,” Msgr. Chimiak said. “One of the greatest honors you can get – by police, by military or by civilian – is the title ‘Father’ or ‘padre.’”

Prior to his 1980 ordination, Msgr. Chimiak was a commissioned officer in the United States Air Force Reserves. Right now, he is in the first of a three-year assignment as Catholic chaplain at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina. He is also the pastor of Our Lady of the Skies Parish located on the base. The base is home to the Air Force’s 20th Fighter Wing, and it is there that F-16 fighter jets are housed and serviced.

“I am identified as a chaplain colonel – always my identification as a priest comes first. The cross always comes first,” the 68-year-old priest said. “I wear the uniform of the Air Force, but I wear the cross and that sets me apart. As a priest in the Air Force, I am part of a team and I represent Jesus.”

During Operation Desert Storm, Msgr. Chimiak was mobilized to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida where “I backfilled and took the place of the guys (chaplains) who went over there to serve.”

One of eight children born to Walter and Wanda Miczkowski Chimiak, the future priest grew up in Mount Calvary Parish in Forestville, Maryland. His decision to become a priest was prompted by the examples of Father Don Worch, a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington who died in 2016, and Msgr. Peter Rakowski, an archdiocesan priest who died in 1982. Both had served at Mount Calvary Parish. 

Msgr. Chimiak said he was also inspired by his friend, confidant and spiritual director, Father Paul Barry. Father Barry who died in 2013, served the archdiocese as a parish priest, archivist of the archdiocese and a member of the Marriage Tribunal. He also was a professor of literature and Church history at Mount Saint Mary's in Emmitsburg.

“They were happy priests and always joyful,” Msgr. Chimiak said of those men who inspired his vocation. “They had a priestly zeal and their love of the Church and their love of the people really affected me deeply.”

He also credits his parents “who were always open to vocations in the family and (who) were very happy when I told them I wanted to be a priest.”

As a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, Msgr. Chimiak served as a parochial vicar at St. Margaret of Scotland Parish in Seat Pleasant, Maryland (1980-1983); St. Matthias Apostle Parish in Lanham, Maryland (1983-1987); and St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Silver Spring, Maryland (1987-1992). He served as a pastor at St. Michael Parish in Ridge, Maryland (1992-2000); Holy Ghost Parish in Issue, Maryland (2000-2004); Sacred Heart Parish in La Plata, Maryland (2004-2007); St. George Parish in Valley Lee, Maryland (2007-2014); and St. Joseph Parish in Beltsville, Maryland (2014-2019).

“Celebrating the sacraments and serving the people – very basic as it is – is just about the best part of being a priest,” he said. “Moving from one parish to another is kind of rough because it has always been tough saying goodbye to my parishioners. But it is exquisite that you never lose your friends.”

Msgr. Chimiak visits with first responders at a 2017 “Breakfast with Badges” at St. Joseph's Regional Catholic School in Beltsville, Maryland. While he was pastor at St. Joseph's, the veteran parish priest and police chaplain helped institute the annual ceremony to honor first responders for their service to the community. They received a special blessing and joined students and teachers for breakfast at the school. (CS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann)

Outside of his parish duties, Msgr. Chimiak at one time or another served as moderator of the Archdiocesan Sodality Union and chaplain to Doctor’s Community Hospital in Lanham, the Boy Scouts, the Knights of Columbus, St. Mary’s County Detention Center and the Maryland State Police.

As a police chaplain, Msgr. Chimiak was certified by the pastoral crisis intervention program offered at the University of Maryland Baltimore Campus (UBC). “It equipped me to go into real desperate situations – crashes, police shootings, that sort of thing – and to diffuse the situation,” he said of his UMBC training. “I would be there for the aftermath of those situations.”

“Being a police chaplain means being there for them, even in dangerous areas you have to be with them,” he said. “It is what Christ did – melting into the community and becoming a part of the community. It can wear you out, but it is a good kind of tired.”

This time of self-isolation and quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic created what Msgr. Chimiak called “a whole new paradigm for me as a priest.”

“This has been a very unusual time, and I am reminded of the quote from the Book of Jeremiah (14:18) that ‘even the prophet and the priest forage in a land they know not,’” he said. “We are in unknown and uncharted territory, but by the grace of God we are making it through. Being separated from my flock was the hardest thing, and now I have the worry and anxiety of how I will get them back.”

He said he knows what he must do to bring the people back to Church: “I will go out to where the people are. I call it a ‘ministry of presence,’ and it means that I go out and hopefully bring them back one by one.”

As he reflects on four decades of ministry, Msgr. Chimiak said “to anyone who says it’s easy – it is not. Forty years has had its ups and it has had its downs, but the ups have been far greater.”

One special way Msgr. Chimiak is celebrating his 40th anniversary as a priest is seeing his nephew, Maximillian Frie, enter the seminary this year as a candidate for the priesthood for the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina.

“Hopefully he saw in me a good priest. That is how you reach these young guys, by being a good and holy priest,” Msgr. Chimiak said. “You always have to have time to talk and be a good listener and be generous with your time. You’ve got to be holy, you have to pray every day, every day you have to love your people and the Mass and the Blessed Mother.”

Msgr. Karl Chimiak marks his 40th anniversary as a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington in 2020. (Archdiocese of Washington photo)