Col. John P. Casper ’04, who has served as the Institute’s first associate chaplain for nine years, was promoted to the rank of colonel and assumed the duties as Institute chaplain to the Corps of Cadets effective July 1, 2023, following the retirement of Col. Robert “Bob” Phillips ’87.
During his cadetship, Casper majored in English, made the dean’s list and the National Dean’s List multiple times, served as vice-president of the Officer of the Guard Association, served on the Ring Figure Committee, and was a member of the ceremonial drill team.
Casper renewed his faith during his 1st Class year, when Col. James Park was Institute chaplain. After graduating in 2004, Casper wanted to remain at VMI and become involved with cadet ministry. He was hired to work in the VMI admissions office. “I loved my job in admissions, but my heart was really with ministry to cadets,” he said.
Casper recalls clearly when he felt the call to go to seminary in 2009. “I was sitting in that pew,” he said as he pointed to the seventh pew back, west side of Memorial Hall chapel. “Chaplain Park was giving a message on Peter walking on water. I had heard the story many times before, but this time was different. I sensed the call to trust God and step out in faith toward full-time ministry.” Within two weeks, Casper submitted his resignation to VMI and put his house on the market, and he and his wife, Lauren, moved to Virginia Beach, where he attended seminary at Regent University and served as pastor to young adults at Avalon Hills Bible Church.
While living in Virginia Beach, Casper and Lauren became parents. Their son, Mareto, joined the family in 2011, followed by their daughter, Arsemawit, who completed their family in 2012. Later that year, Park invited Casper to speak at VMI. Being back on post, Casper was struck by how much he missed the Institute. “I remember chatting with a group of VMI leaders in the chaplain’s quarters, and someone suggested the need for an associate chaplain.” The idea was explored, and eventually, a generous donation from a benefactor secured the position. “I applied and was offered the job in December 2013. It was a dream come true,” shared Casper.
Phillips became chaplain when Park retired in 2016. “Coming into the chaplain position is so special for me because I look up to Chaplain Park and Chaplain Phillips so much,” said Casper. He confessed that stepping into Phillips’ shadow weighs heavily on him because Phillips’ influence was strong, not only on Casper, but on the Corps and the VMI community. However, he is buoyed by the benefit of having observed both men and their approaches to cadet ministry for nearly 10 years. “VMI is a fast-paced environment, and ministry is, too,” he said.
“No matter who sits in the chaplain chair, ministry and outreach will be accomplished, and to be that person is humbling. I feel overwhelmingly blessed to have this opportunity.”Col. John P. Casper ’04
Reflecting on his new role, Casper realizes he must be his own person but plans no immediate significant changes. “We will continue going on service trips during spring furlough. It has a tremendous impact on the cadets who go,” he stated. He wants to place more emphasis on communion in chapel and hopes to revitalize the worship team. He also wants to make a concentrated effort to reach out to cadets outside the Christian faith. “We have a growing population of Jewish and Muslim cadets. As the diversity of cadets increases, so does the diversity of thought, faith, and religion. The primary mission of the chaplain’s office is to ensure the free exercise of religion, so I want to plug cadets into their faith in meaningful ways,” he stated.
Casper recently completed his doctorate from Liberty University. The concentration of his research was on college student bereavement and how colleges and universities take care of students who have lost loved ones. “It is very much an emerging field, and research indicates that colleges and universities struggle [with] balancing care for the student with institutional responsibilities. A lot of our cadets experience death for the first time while they are here. The majority are grandparents, but every year we have parents and siblings who pass away, and those are significant losses. Coming alongside the cadets and supporting them can make all the difference,” he said.
Casper, who has a clear devotion to VMI and the cadets, shared that he cannot imagine himself doing anything else other than ministering to them. “No matter who sits in the chaplain chair, ministry and outreach will be accomplished, and to be that person is humbling. I feel overwhelmingly blessed to have this opportunity,” he revealed.
Phillips shared that Casper is uniquely qualified to be chaplain. “He knows VMI. His love for serving cadets is unmatched. He is a man of deep-seated faith, and cadets, faculty, and staff know and respect him,” he said.
Allen Stewart ’24, one of the four cadet chaplains for the upcoming academic year, is excited to be working under Casper. “He is very caring and is willing to do anything to help you, whether that may be from a religious crisis standpoint or just someone to talk to,” he said.
Casper, Lauren, Mareto, and Arsemawit and their dog, Trudy, will move into the chaplain’s quarters in the fall.
Marianne Hause VMI Communications & Marketing
Editor's Note: Story originally published by Virginia Military Institute.