Wednesday, August 19, 2020
Family and spirituality

Ask a veteran: Military backgrounds benefit parishes, schools

Tenth in a series

The October 2017 issue of the Catholic Review explored the theme of “Positively Catholic” through Education, Health Care, Parish Life and Service. Each Review issue in 2019 will explore one of those aspects of being “Positively Catholic.” The following explores Service.

During his eight years as pastor of St. Andrew by the Bay, Father Jeffrey Dauses has tapped a valuable resource on the Broadneck Peninsula. In addition to the parish’s proximity to the U.S. Naval Academy, it is awash in men and women with experience serving in the armed forces.

“Whenever I have asked someone with a military background to do something, they do it quickly and efficiently,” he said. “Plus, they’re going to report back to me in writing, and tell me how to do it better next time.

“The military gives people discipline and purpose. We benefit from their energy and expertise.”

From Annapolis to Aberdeen to Frederick, the Archdiocese of Baltimore is home to military installations, and thousands of men and women who logged time on them around the world.

With Veterans Day Nov. 11, this installment of Positively Catholic looks at a Catholic school principal, a parish leader and a man studying to be a priest who took time to serve their country while continuing to serve God.


Team player

Denise Ball visits a classroom at St. Augustine School in Elkridge, where she is principal. (Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff)

As St. Augustine School in Elkridge sought a new principal in 2016, Father John Williamson had in mind someone who could help him bond a Catholic community that includes that church and Ascension in Halethorpe.

Denise Ball, whose resume includes two years in the U.S. Army and another six in the Reserves, filled the bill.

“The biggest way Denise uses her military training is the importance of team,” Father Williamson said. “She has instilled that in the faculty and in her leadership, that they succeed as a team and need to have everyone’s back.”

Ball graduated high school in Florida as an independent 18-year-old, but had limited education options until the dentist she worked for, a retired colonel, encouraged her to try the military. Then, she qualified as a sharpshooter in the U.S. Army. Now, she’s a Ph.D. candidate.

“I didn’t know the gifts that I had in myself, because I was still so young,” she said. “I knew I wanted more, but I didn’t know how I was going to get it. The Army provided that avenue to higher education (the G.I. Bill), but it was also a way to serve my country and get to know myself.”

Her collaborative style recalls her time in Panama during Desert Storm. A dental assistant, she treated soldiers heading to the Middle East, as well as the local population.

A young Denise Ball displays a U.S. Army commendation. (Courtesy photo)

“I was one of two females (working) in my clinic, but blessed with three strong commanders,” Ball said. “Even though I was a private, they would ask for my input, on how the unit could benefit and be better.

“My team (at St. Augustine) feels empowered. It’s through listening that I can help them rise so that they feel heard and feel valued.”

The soldiers coming through her clinic included her husband of nearly 27 years, Michael, then a CID (Criminal Investigation Department) agent. She spent two decades as a teacher and administrator in the Archdiocese of Detroit, before his work in Homeland Security brought them to Annapolis.

They’re parishioners of St. Mary’s in Annapolis, where their two high-schoolers, Nathaniel and Claire, eye the Naval Academy every school day.

Their mother’s background is well-suited to being an administrator.

“We manage multimillion-dollar departments, but sometimes we have to clean the toilet,” Ball said. “We have to manage the budget, keep our people happy and make sure that good education is occurring. You have to have mental stamina, because our main mission is to create disciples of Christ for the church.”


Still leading

Bobby Jackson, a veteran of the U.S. Army, is in his second stint as president of St. Ann pastoral council in Baltimore. (Paul McMullen/CR Staff)

Bobby Jackson is in his second stint as president of the parish council of St. Ann in Baltimore. He was raised here and in Columbia, S.C., in an “orderly house” maintained by his mother, Edna.

His leadership ability was evident on the Fairfield High football and basketball teams in Winnsboro; S.C., on street corners where he was “the guy saying, ‘don’t do that’ ” to others pondering wrong; and in the U.S. Army, where he encountered a new form of discrimination.

“I learned about the caste system in this country, of affluent people who look down on those with less,” Jackson said. “Our unit included a boy from Kentucky who was the first in his family to graduate high school. I didn’t approve of the way he was treated.”

Jackson, 68, had enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1970, when there was no sign to the end of the war in Vietnam.

“My grandfather had served in World War I. My father served in World War II, in a segregated unit,” Jackson said. “It was something I needed to do, serve my country.”

Exempt from combat duty, Jackson worked stateside, first as a financial officer, and then in counterintelligence, doing work he prefers “not to talk about.”

A specialist 4th grade when he left the Army, Jackson worked in the steel industry in East Baltimore, and also as an insurance agent. Civilian life has included membership in the NAACP, being president of Local Steelworkers Union 3185, and aiding his parish.

Bobby Jackson enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1970. (Courtesy photo)

Jackson converted to Catholicism in his late 20s, and received his first sacraments at St. Ann from Father Samuel J. Lupico. The committee running its oyster roast recruited him in the late 1970s, and before long he was the first grand knight of the parish chapter of the Knights of St. Peter Claver.

“My belief in God kept me on the straight and narrow,” said Jackson, a husband, father of two and grandfather of two college students. “My belief in God kept me balanced.”

Jackson remains ramrod straight, as the free weights in the basement of his Rosedale home seldom gather dust. He towers above the people of St. Ann, but works alongside all.

“Before, I would let my emotions dictate my action,” Jackson said of how his military training carried over. “I learned to put aside emotion, look at the facts and be objective.”


‘Absolute fidelity’

Seminarian Jim Bors is expected to be ordained to the priesthood in 2022 for the Archdiocese of Baltimore. (Courtesy photo)

If all goes as planned, Jim Bors will be ordained a priest for the archdiocese in 2022, nearly 40 years after he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. In his mind, those parallel tracks go back to his childhood in Prince George’s County, where his family worshipped at St. Mary in Landover Hills.

“As Catholics, we’re taught to know, love and serve God and our neighbors,” he said. “One way I can serve God is to serve my country. The Naval Academy seemed a good way to do that, and be challenged in all areas of life.”

Bors said those dynamics underscore why Catholics are the dominant religious affiliation at the Academy, which he entered in 1979.

At Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, learning how to save souls is an assignment he seems born to. Other than to acknowledge that there were times, as officer on deck, when he was “responsible for the entire mission of the sub,” Bors can say little about the highly-classified work he did in the late 1980s on the USS Birmingham SSN 695, a Los Angeles-class submarine based out of Pearl Harbor,

Jim Bors, a seminarian of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, is a 1983 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. (Courtesy photo)

He concluded active duty as a classroom instructor at the academy, then spent 25 years in manufacturing and consulting. He and his wife, Shirley, raised their sons, Michael and Jeff,  at St. Andrew by the Bay Parish. After her 2010 suicide, it rallied around him.

He eventually said yes to the parishioners asking, “Have you ever thought about being a deacon or a priest?”

“Jim has served our parish in so many ways,” Father Dauses said. “Like so many Naval Academy grads, he approaches God the same way he approached his military service, with absolute fidelity, complete loyalty and unwavering commitment. He has a natural heart for evangelization.”

Bors is spending his pastoral year at St. John in Westminster. He has taken his sons on mission trips to the Caribbean and Central America. On civilian business in Saudi Arabia, where the Bible is prohibited, he “purposely” left his open on his hotel desk.

In broken English, his housekeeper asked, “Where can I get a Bible?”

“I gave it to him,” Bors said.

Read more Positively Catholic stories here.

Email Paul McMullen at


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