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Nicolas joins 123rd Airlift Wing as newest chaplain

The newest chaplain at the 123rd Airlift Wing, Capt. Jeffrey Nicolas, speaks with an Airman following Catholic Mass at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., Oct. 18, 2015. Nicolas previously served as a chaplain in the U.S. Navy. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Vicky Spesard)

The newest chaplain at the 123rd Airlift Wing, Capt. Jeffrey Nicolas, speaks with an Airman following Catholic Mass at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., Oct. 18, 2015. Nicolas previously served as a chaplain in the U.S. Navy. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Vicky Spesard)

The newest chaplain at the 123rd Airlift Wing, Capt. Jeffrey Nicolas, conducts Catholic Mass at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., Oct. 18, 2015. Nicolas previously served as a chaplain in the U.S. Navy. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Vicky Spesard)

The newest chaplain at the 123rd Airlift Wing, Capt. Jeffrey Nicolas, conducts Catholic Mass at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., Oct. 18, 2015. Nicolas previously served as a chaplain in the U.S. Navy. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Vicky Spesard)

The newest chaplain at the 123rd Airlift Wing, Capt. Jeffrey Nicolas, conducts Catholic Mass at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., Oct. 18, 2015. Nicolas previously served as a chaplain in the U.S. Navy. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Vicky Spesard)

The newest chaplain at the 123rd Airlift Wing, Capt. Jeffrey Nicolas, conducts Catholic Mass at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., Oct. 18, 2015. Nicolas previously served as a chaplain in the U.S. Navy. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Vicky Spesard)

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- A big smile and a jovial handshake is how Capt. Jeffrey Nicolas, the newest wing chaplain, greets each Airman here, welcoming them to his worship services as if he has known them all their lives.

As a former Navy chaplain mostly working with the Marine Corps 18 years ago, Nicolas' love and respect for service members--and a chance meeting with a current wing chaplain--brought him back to the military family.

"I was at a local hospital visiting one of my people, and I met Chaplain (Maj.) Kerry Wentworth, who works at the hospital" and is a current chaplain in the Kentucky Air National Guard, Nicolas explained. "Many of my parishioners have worked with him. Introductions were made, and that initiated conversations about coming back."

Wentworth, who was working to replace a Catholic chaplain following his retirement from the Kentucky Air Guard, knew Nicolas had what it takes to step in and fill that vacancy.

"Father Jeff is a very important man in the Diocese here in Louisville," Wentworth explained. "He's very highly regarded and well-loved in the community. He's a significant asset to the Archdiocese, which had to give permission for Father Jeff to come aboard here."

Nicolas was very pleased when that permission was granted.

"I still have this admiration for military people, and I have parishioners who are serving in the military or working with the military," said Nicolas who is pastor at the Cathedral of the Assumption in Louisville. "When the opportunity arose to work here, I was very ready and eager to raise my hand and once again enter the military culture."

Since his time with the Navy, Nicolas has served as a pastor of St. Lawrence in Shively for five years, an associate pastor at St. James in Elizabethtown and St. Ignatius in White Mills, and as the associate pastor at St. Barnabas in Louisville.

Nicolas attended Saint Meinrad Seminary College and School of Theology in Saint Meinrad, Indiana. He was ordained in 1993, has a master's degree in homiletics from Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville, Tennessee, and a doctorate in homiletics from the Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis, Missouri.

Being one of the newest members of the 123rd Airlift Wing, Nicolas' first goal is to familiarize himself with base personnel and become part of the chaplain team.

"I want to be a contributing member to the chaplain team," Nicolas explained. "The team respects each other, works well with each other and is eager to help our servicemembers. My hope is to be a catalyst to that.

"I want to get out and see where everyone works and see what they do," Nicolas said of base personnel. "I will have time for people to come in to my office to see me, but I want to come out and be approachable by the base community."