After three years as a parish priest, he became an active-duty Army chaplain in 2000. His assignments have brought him around the U.S. and to Egypt, Afghanistan, and Germany.
Now, at West Point, "I supervise the entire religious program for the commanding general of the post," he said.
What are some of the unique joys and challenges of being a military chaplain?
Fr. Pawlikowski likened it to "being a missionary," given that there is a "military subculture" within society. Just as one can't fully understand the Catholic Church from an outsider's perspective, the military is the "same way," he said.
"American soldiers are awesome," he said. "We have these young people that step forward at risk of themselves, at risk of their own safety, their family's safety, and they do things to protect the rest of the country, to serve the country."
"They don't get paid what they're worth," he added. "There's really a sense of service about them, which is absolutely beautiful."
And it is "pretty much a large young adult ministry," he noted, as many soldiers are ages 18 to 24.
At West Point in particular, Fr. Pawlikowski realizes that as senior chaplain, he is forming the future leaders of the country.
"We're shaping them who end up shaping our country," he said. "God can use the United States military for the holiness of our country and even for the salvation of our country. So that's not a bad job to have."
However, it is a "missionary" life as many young cadets may not even be practicing their faith. "Most young males are away from the Church. And that's most of our soldiers," he said, noting increasing numbers of young people who are Atheists, secularists, or "unchurched" Christians.
Yet among those who are practicing Catholics, he noted, "I am seeing what Pope Benedict XVI predicted. He said that in our lifetime, we are going to see a smaller and yet more vibrant Church."
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"The folks that are zealous are amazing. They are so far ahead of me and where I was at their age," he said, describing them as "knowledgeable," "devout," "pious," and "respectful."
Military chaplains have to minister to soldiers anywhere – at the gym, at work, or out in the field training. They have to be in "good physical shape" and "learn how to operate in a combat environment," Fr. Pawlikowski said, "so that we can be there for those people when they need it."
How does he normally evangelize?
"We give witness to the faith, first and foremost, by who we are," Fr. Pawlikowski said, noting that "when soldiers see that you're there with them" in "rotten" conditions in rain, snow, and freezing weather, "then they see that you're one of them…that's the beauty of the chaplaincy."
"A lot of the military chaplaincy is geared specifically to that, that we should never have any of our young Americans who are willing to risk their lives for our safety and our security have to face death, or at least the threat of death, without the presence of the sacraments available to them. And the presence of one of God's priests available to them," he said.
He keeps a picture – on the back of his prayer book and over his altar – of a priest friend of his administering the sacrament of Extreme Unction to a bloody-faced Marine on a table waiting to be operated on.