Home Our Diocese Army veteran Joe O'Banion finds oasis in Catholicism

Army veteran Joe O'Banion finds oasis in Catholicism


Religion was not really a significant part of Joe O’Banion’s life as he was growing up in Marysville, Calif.
“If I had to give them any kind of denomination, it would have been Baptist,” he said recently.
He may have continued on that path had he not looked for a change from northern California. After getting laid off from his job as Hewlett Packard, O’Banion went in search of a new life. He called a cousin in Oregon who was an Army recruiter and asked how soon he could be in the military. His cousin responded that it could be as fast as he could get to Oregon.

Joe O’Banion

“Just to get out of the slump I was in. I didn’t have a whole bunch of options as far as careers,” he said. “I was the second-oldest guy in my platoon. I was 27 when I first joined in January 2005.”
After an assignment in Germany, O’Banion found himself deployed to Iraq, where his life would take another turn. Without getting specific, he said he saw some disturbing things during his time there.
“I had some issues with combat. It was pretty significant,” he said.
O’Banion, 40, went to see a military chaplain who happened to be Catholic. He attended a Mass in the desert, where he liked that the congregation was able to participate instead of “listening to someone talk for an hour and a half,” as the case can be in some other religions.
He returned to the United States with orders to work at Fort Meade, Md., and he was still there when he left the Army in 2011. He remained at Fort Meade as a civilian information technology specialist and commutes each day from his home in Denton, Md.
On the Eastern Shore, he attended Mass with a friend at St. Benedict Church and met with the pastor, Father John Gabage. They talked about a number of things.
“When I talked to him … he kind of brought (the Catholic faith) down to a normalization for me. That really kind of opened my eyes a little bit, just talking to him for an hour and a half of so,” O’Banion said.
He started attending Mass regularly and says it has changed his life. “I feel a lot more fulfilled. There’s a weight lifted off of me.”
He gives credit to the Army chaplain and Father Gabage for their calm demeanor when they talked about the violence O’Banion had seen in Iraq.
“I don’t know how these guys do that,” he said. “I wanted to have that. I used to always be a pretty mellow guy. I guess I still am, but that stuff kind of changes you a little bit.”
‘Breath of fresh air’
O’Banion and his wife, Tammy, have two sons, Nicholas, 19, and Braeden, who is 6. They are not Catholic, and for now, he is taking this step by himself, with the considerable assistance of his sponsors, Heather and Mark Robuck, who live in his neighborhood. Whether his family follows him into Catholicism is a decision for a later date.
“I’m doing this on my own for right now. It’s not really a selfish thing. It’s a get better thing.
“I don’t want to force anything on anybody. I want to get involved. I want to do this for me and get rid of some old baggage that I’ve got.”
Despite the trauma he experienced in Iraq, he is grateful for his military experience and would do it again. He’s been able to do a lot of things many people just dream about. He has a picture of his wife and himself kissing in front of the Eiffel Tower. While in Paris, he was able to attend Easter Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral even though he was not Catholic.
“I was like, this is a big deal over here. What is going on? The cardinal was all decked out. It was really cool.” he recalled.
Since beginning the RCIA process, O’Banion said not too much about the Catholic faith has baffled him. He has offered his perspective on some aspects of the faith, which he hopes has provided his classmates and instructors with another way of seeing things. He also appreciates all of the work put in by those involved with the process, in particular his sponsors, the Robucks.
As the Easter vigil nears, the word that best describes his demeanor is “excited.”
“It’s just kind of a breath of fresh air in my life.”