8

Chesty Puller and Catholic Chaplains

(I first ran this back in 2011.  It has proven to be one of the most popular posts I have written for TAC.  Time to run it again.)

 

 

Some men become legends after their deaths and others become legends while they are alive.  Lewis Burwell Puller, forever known as “Chesty”, was in the latter category.  Enlisting in the Marine Corps in 1918 he would serve until 1955, rising in rank from private to lieutenant general.  Throughout his career he led from the front, never asking his men to go where he would not go.  For his courage he was five times awarded the Navy Cross,  a Silver Star,  a Distinguished Service Cross, and a Bronze Star with a V for Valor, along with numerous other decorations.  In World War II and Korea he became a symbol of the courage that Marines amply displayed in  both conflicts.

His fourth Navy Cross citation details why the Marines under his command would have followed him in an attack on Hades if he had decided to lead them there:

“For extraordinary heroism as Executive Officer of the Seventh Marines, First Marine Division, serving with the Sixth United States Army, in combat against enemy Japanese forces at Cape Gloucester, New Britain, from 26 December 1943 to 19 January 1944. Assigned temporary command of the Third Battalion, Seventh Marines, from 4 to 9 January, Lieutenant Colonel Puller quickly reorganized and advanced his unit, effecting the seizure of the objective without delay. Assuming additional duty in command of the Third Battalion, Fifth Marines, from 7 to 8 January, after the commanding officer and executive officer had been wounded, Lieutenant Colonel Puller unhesitatingly exposed himself to rifle, machine-gun and mortar fire from strongly entrenched Japanese positions to move from company to company in his front lines, reorganizing and maintaining a critical position along a fire-swept ridge. His forceful leadership and gallant fighting spirit under the most hazardous conditions were contributing factors in the defeat of the enemy during this campaign and in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”

Stories began to cluster about him.  When he was first shown a flame thrower he supposedly asked, “Where do you mount the bayonet?”    Advised that his unit was surrounded he replied:  “All right, they’re on our left, they’re on our right, they’re in front of us, they’re behind us…they can’t get away this time.”  On an inspection tour of a Marine unit he became exasperated at the lack of spirit he saw and finally said,“Take me to the Brig. I want to see the real Marines!”  During the Chosin campaign in Korea when the Marines were fighting their way to the coast through several Communist Chinese corps he captured the tactical situation succinctly:  “We’ve been looking for the enemy for some time now. We’ve finally found him. We’re surrounded. That simplifies things.”  Little surprise that Marine Drill Instructors at Parris Island still have their boots sing good night to Chesty Puller some four decades after his death.

Puller was an Episcopalian.  However he made no secret that he greatly admired Navy Catholic chaplains who served with the Marines, and had little use, with certain honorable exceptions, for the Navy Protestant chaplains sent to the Corps.  His reasons were simple.  The Catholic chaplains were without fear, always wanted to be with the troops in combat, and the men idolized them for their courage and their willingness, even eagerness, to stand with them during their hour of trial. Continue Reading

7

Sunday in Paradise

aloysius-h-schmitt

 

Lieutenant j.g. Aloysius Schmitt had just finished morning mass aboard the USS Oklahoma.  Acting chaplain of the Okie, a Sunday meant a busy day for him, a relaxed day for almost everyone else on board the ship.  Since they were in port and the country was at peace a Sunday was a day of rest.  Besides,  the port was a tropical paradise.  Life was good for the crew of the Okie.

 

Father Schmitt, born on December 4, 1909, was an Iowan, about as far from the sea as it is possible to be in the US.  Studying in Rome for the priesthood, he was ordained on December 8, 1935.  After serving at parishes in Dubuque, Iowa and Cheyenne, Wyoming, Father Schmitt received permission to join the Navy and was commissioned a Lieutenant j.g. on June 28, 1939.

On December 7, 1941 at 8:00 AM the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor began.  The Oklahoma and the other battleships on battleship row were the primary targets.  Alarms began to sound on the Oklahoma, and the ship was hit almost immediately by nine torpedoes from Japanese torpedo bombers.  The ship began to list badly and every sailor knew that it was probably just a few minutes before the Okie would capsize. Continue Reading

2

Padre of Guadalcanal

BE058992

 

 

(This is a post I did in 2009.  It seemed appropriate to repost it today in tandem with my Halsey post.  Father Gehring pray for us that we may have the courage to face our challenges in life and win victories over them.)

 

Frederic Gehring was probably lucky that he was born and reared in Brooklyn.  It has always been a tough town and it prepared him for the adventurous life he was to lead.  Born on January 20, 1903,  he went on to attend and graduated from Saint John’s Prep.  Setting his eyes on being a missionary priest, he entered the minor seminary of the Vincentians, Saint Joseph’s, near Princeton,  New Jersey.  Earning his BA in 1925, he entered the seminary of Saint Vincent’s in Philadelphia.

Ordained as a priest on May 22, 1930, he was unable to immediately go to China due to military activity of the Communists in Kiangsi province.  For three years he traveled throughout the US raising funds for the missions in China, and, at long last, in 1933 he was able to pack his bags and sailed for China.  Laboring in the Chinese missions from 1933-1939 in the midst of warlordism, civil war and the invasion of China, commencing in 1937, by Japan must have been tough, but Father Gehring was always up to any challenge.  For example,  in 1938 Japanese planes strafed a mission he was at.  Father Gehring ran out waving a large American flag in hopes that the Japanese would not wish to offend a powerful neutral nation and would stop the strafing.  The Japanese planes did fly off, and Father Gehring was pleased until someone at the mission pointed out that maybe the Japanese had simply run out of ammo!  In 1939 Father Gerhring returned to the States to raise funds for the missions.

 

Immediately following Pearl Harbor, Father Gehring joined the Navy as a Chaplain.  In September 1942 he began an unforgettable six month tour of duty with the First Marine Division fighting on Guadalcanal.  Marines, although they are often loathe to admit it, are a component of the Department of the Navy, and the US Navy supplies their support troops, including chaplains.  (One of my friends served as a Navy corpsman with a Marine unit in Vietnam.  After his tour with the Navy he enlisted with the Marines, was commissioned a Lieutenant, and spent his entire tour with a detachment of Marines aboard an aircraft carrier.  As he puts it, he joined the Navy and spent his time slogging through the mud with Marines.  He then joined the Marines and spent his time sailing with the Navy.)

Guadalcanal marked the turning point of the war in the Pacific.  In August 1942 the US went on the offensive for the first time when the First Marine Division, the Old Breed,  landed on Guadalcanal and took the Japanese air base there.  This set off a huge six month campaign, where US forces, often outnumbered on land, sea and in the air, fought and defeated the Imperial Army and Navy.  The importance of Guadalcanal is well captured in this quote from Admiral William “Bull” Halsey: “Before Guadalcanal the enemy advanced at his pleasure. After Guadalcanal, he retreated at ours”.

Guadalcanal

Upon arrival on Guadalcanal, Lieutenant Gehring quickly became known as “Padre “ to the men of the Old Breed, the title usually bestowed upon chaplains, especially if they were Catholic priests.  He soon became known for wanting to be where the fighting was in order to help the wounded and administer the Last Rites.  Initially this took some of the Marines by surprise.  Jumping into a foxhole during a heavy fire fight, a shocked Marine already in the foxhole, noticing the crucifix dangling from his neck, cried out to him, “Padre, what are you doing here?”  Gehring calmly replied, “Where else would I be?”  He would routinely say Masses so close to the fighting, that the Marines said that he would say Mass in Hell for Marines if he could drive his jeep there.  The Marines quickly decided that it was a lost cause asking the Padre to stay behind the lines.  They were doing well if they could convince him to stay within friendly lines!  Three times he went out on behind the line missions to rescue trapped missionaries on the island, mostly Marist priests and sisters, rescuing 28 of them, assisted by natives of the Solomons.  For this feat he was the first Navy chaplain to be awarded the Legion of Merit by the President. Continue Reading

9

My Place Is With Them

 

 

 

The video above depicts Father Michael Quealy saying Mass in Vietnam. The video has no sound, but without words we can see the fervor with which the priest is saying Mass.  That was all Father Quealy.  Whatever he did in this world he did 100%.

Born in New York City on September 11, 1929, he dreamed as a boy of being a missionary in Asia.  He would go to Asia, as a priest, but as a Chaplain in the Army.  A graduate of Seaton Hall University and Maryknoll Seminary, he had served as a priest in the diocese of Mobile Alabama, before joining the Army as a chaplain in 1965.  He did so to bring the sacraments to soldiers on the battlefield in Vietnam.  As much as it was in his power, he wanted no soldier to die fighting and go into eternity spiritually unarmed.

Assigned to the third brigade of the First Infantry Division, the Big Red One, in June 1966, he quickly began hitching rides on medical evacuation choppers.  They would be going to where the fighting was, and as far as Chaplain Quealy was concerned, that was where he needed to be.  He would land, help with the wounded, usually under fire, and give the Last Rites to the dying.  He did not check to see if the dying were Catholics, reasoning that the sacrament would do no harm to non-Catholics, and might do them an infinity of good.  Troops began to talk about this Catholic Chaplain who was fearless.

Eugene Tuttle, a soldier with the Big Red One, recalled Father Quealy:

My battalion was near Father Quealy’s the day he was killed in Tay Ninh province on Nov. 8, 1966. The terrible news reached me the next day, He had heard my confession in Lai Khe about a month earlier. Young men dying was bad enough, but it seemed like a sacrilege for a priest to be killed while providing comfort to the wounded and dying. I had met him months earlier on my first full day in the field, when before boarding our tanks and APCs, to be sent out as “bait” until reinforcements could rescue us, Chaplain Quealy invited the Catholics among us to join him. He told us that reconnaissance had just confirmed the VC were dug in and waiting for us in the bush. He then draped his stole over his shoulders, reminded us that an Act of Contrition could substitute for confession when one was in immediate danger of death. It was an unforgettably dramatic moment, and the chaplain was an unforgettably kind man. I regret just learning of this opportunity now to pay long overdue homage to him. God bless his soul!

On November 8, 1966, Father Quealy heard about fighting near Tay Ninh and rushed to get aboard a medical copter.  A staff officer tried to dissuade him, saying that it was much too dangerous a situation.  Father Quealy did not even slow down, but shouted over his shoulder, “My place is with them!”

The first battalion, twenty-eight infantry was under such intense fire that the helicopter Father Quealy was on board had to circle for an hour before it could land.  When it did, Father Quealey  charged into action.  Here is a report of what happened next: Continue Reading

4

Father Thomas Michael Conway: Last US Chaplain to Die in World War II

Father Thomas Michael Conway

 (Much of the information contained in this post was taken from a post on Father Conway written by Bill Millhome.  Go here to read his post.)

Early this year the Navy rejected efforts to have Father Thomas Michael Conway awarded the Navy Cross.  I would be angrier at this injustice if I was not certain that the Chaplain had not been awarded the ultimate blessing of sainthood and the Beatific Vision immediately after his heroic death in shark infested waters at the tail end of World War II.

Born on April 5, 1908 in Waterbury, Connecticut, he was the oldest of three children of his Irish immigrant parents.  Ordained a priest in 1934 he served as a priest in various parishes in Buffalo, New York.  His main leisure activities was sailing a boat on Lake Erie.  On September 17, 1942 he enlisted in the Navy and was commissioned as a chaplain.

On August 25, 1944 he was assigned to the cruiser USS Indianapolis as a chaplain.

July 29, 1945 was a Sunday, and the Chaplain had said Mass for the Catholic sailors, and conducted a service for the Protestant sailors.  Fourteen minutes past midnight two torpedoes fired by the Japanese sub I-58 ripped into the starboard bow of the Indianapolis.  The ship sank in twelve minutes, taking 300 men to the bottom with it.  Nine hundred sailors, including the chaplain, were adrift in the pitch black shark infested waters.

Frank J. Centazzo, one of the 317 survivors of this ordeal, recalled what the Chaplain did, as he swam from group to group, tending the wounded, leading the men in prayer and giving the  Last Rites to sailors beyond all human aid:

“Father Conway was in every way a messenger of our Lord. He loved his work no matter what the challenge. He was respected and loved by all his shipmates. I was in the group with Father Conway. … I saw him go from one small group to another. Getting the shipmates to join in prayer and asking them not to give up hope of being rescued. He kept working until he was exhausted. I remember on the third day late in the afternoon when he approached me and Paul McGiness. He was thrashing the water and Paul and I held him so he could rest a few hours. Later, he managed to get away from us and we never saw him again. Father Conway was successful in his mission to provide spiritual strength to all of us. He made us believe that we would be rescued. He gave us hope and the will to endure. His work was exhausting and he finally succumbed in the evening of the third day. He will be remembered by all of the survivors for all of his work while on board the ‘Indy’ and especially three days in the ocean.” Continue Reading

1

April 24, 1945: Death of Father Cyclone

father-larry-lynch

 

Larry Lynch was born, the first of 12 kids in his family, in the City Line neighborhood of Brooklyn on October 17, 1906.  He grew up on some pretty tough streets while also serving as an altar boy at Saint Sylvester’s.   He came to greatly admire the Redemptorists, an order of missionary priests founded by Saint Alphonsus Liguori in 1732.  In America the order had distinguished itself by its work in some of the roughest slums in the country and thus it was small wonder that a tough street kid would be attracted to them.  Larry Lynch was ordained a priest in the Redemptorist Order in 1932.

His initial assignment was as a missionary priest in Brazil, in the parishes of Miranda and Aquidauana in the State of Mato Grosso, quite a change from Brooklyn!  In 1937 he served at Old Saint Mary’s in Buffalo, New York with mission assignments to Orangeburg, North Carolina and Ephrata, Pa.

Prior to Pearl Harbor, in September 1941, Father Lynch enlisted in the Army as a chaplain.  He served at Camp Wheeler, Georgia, Fort Polk, Lousiana, and in the Mojave Desert in California with the 31rst regiment of the 7th Armored Division.  In December 1943 he was sent overseas to New Caledonia in the Southwest Pacific.

Assigned initially to the 42nd Quarter Master Battalion in Noumea, Captain Lynch quickly began making himself unforgettable.  The commander of the outfit was Lieutenant Colonel Julius Klein, a remarkable man in his own right who had served as an American spy in Germany during World War I.  Klein, to his astonishment, found himself agreeing that he and all the staff officers in the battalion would be at Christmas Mass that evening, although he wondered what a Jew like him would be doing at a  Catholic Mass!  Father Lynch had that type of effect on people, his enthusiasm tended to overwhelm all opposition.  He decided that the chapel was too small for the Mass and it was held in the base amphitheater.  The amphitheater filled to capacity, the Christmas carols at the Mass were led by a soldier named  Goldstein, a great tenor, who Father Lynch had met on the troop transport.  Father Lynch explained the priest’s vestments prior to beginning for the benefit of the non-Catholics present:

“Father Stearns of the Navy will celebrate the Mass.   Before he begins, there’s a lot even Catholics should know and I’ll bet a nickel there are some right here who couldn’t explain why a priest wears all those vestments, for example.  Well, it’s time we all knew why and it won’t hurt you non-Catholics to know either.”

“Father Stearns will begin to put on his vestments, and while he does, well talk about them a little. First, as to the why. Every one of them is a symbol, a symbol of service to God.”

He picked up the amice and held it high. “This, for example. It’s just a piece of linen, and it is called an amice: A-M-I-C-E. Jesus was blindfolded, and the amice represents that blindfold. Okay, Father.”

He extended the amice to Father Stearns who put it on.

“Herod placed a garment on Jesus to make a fool of Him. You remember that.  This white robe white to signify purity is an alb: A-L-B, and the alb is symbolic of that garment.  Incidentally there are six colors used by the church and each one of them is significant: white for purity and joy, red for blood and fire, green is the symbol of hope, violet for penance. . . .”

The Mass had a huge impact on everyone present, and Colonel Klein announced that he was glad he came. Continue Reading

2

August 31, 1864: Death Comes For Father Emery

father-emery

 

Destiny attended Emmeran Bliemel at his birth on the feast day of Saint Michael the Archangel, patron saint of soldiers, in 1831 in Bavaria.  From his early boyhood his burning desire was to be a missionary to German Catholics in far off America.  Joining a Benedictine Abbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania in 1851, he was ordained a priest in 1856. Continue Reading

6

Franciscan Paratrooper

Father Ignatius Maternowski

For love of Him they ought to expose themselves to enemies both visible and invisible.

Saint Francis of Assisi

Ignatius Maternowski entered this Vale of Tears on March 28, 1912, in Holyoke, Massachusetts, the son of Polish immigrants  He attended, appropriately enough, Saint Francis High School.  Impressed by the Franciscans he encountered there, he decided to become a Franciscan priest.  He was ordained to the priesthood on July 3, 1938.  His gift for preaching manifesting itself, he was assigned as a missionary-preacher at the friary of Saint Anthony of Padua in Elicott City, Maryland.

From the time of Pearl Harbor he sought permission to serve as a chaplain and in July 1942 he enlisted in the Army.  He served as a chaplain in the 508th regiment of the 82nd Airborne.  In the aftermath of the chaotic combat drop into Normandy on the night before D-Day, Captain Maternowski busied himself in tending both American and German wounded. Continue Reading

2

A Priest Born on Flag Day

One of the most highly decorated chaplains of World War II, Father Elmer W. Heindl used to joke that his decorations were simply due to him being in the wrong place at the right time.  Born on June 14, 1910 in Rochester, New York, the oldest of six children, Heindl decided at an early age that he was meant to be a priest and was ordained on June 6, 1936.  He said that being born on Flag Day indicated to him that during his life he would do something to honor the Stars and Stripes. Continue Reading

5

Father Turgis: Preacher By Deeds, Not Words

Father Turgis

“God give me strength for I am not a good preacher.”

 Born in Marigny, France on April 12, 1813, Isidore Francois Turgis loved the classics and the Church.  He was ordained on May 31, 1846.  During the Crimean War he attempted to served as a chaplain, but was rejected for physical reasons.  However, while his flesh was frail, Father Turgis had a spirit of pure steel and his persistence was rewarded in 1857 with an appointment to the Corps of Chaplains.  During the Second Italian War of Independence he served with the French army at the battles of  Montebello, Palestro, Magenta, Crossing of the Tessin, Marignan, and Solferino.  He also served with the French army in Cochin China (Vietnam).

Some priests seem to be destined to lead adventurous lives.  After returning to France, he decided that he was called to be a priest in New Orleans.  Arriving there he was assigned to serve at the Saint Louis Cathedral.  He quickly became popular with the creole population and was asked to serve as chaplain of the Orleans Guards.  He hoped that he would not have to preach often as a chaplain in the Confederate Army:  “God give me strength for I am not a good preacher.”

Letters from troops in his regiment, which later became the 30th Louisiana Infantry, attest to the courage, kindness and faith of Father Turgis.   At Shiloh he was one of the few Catholic priests who was present at an engagement, and this fact still stuns even after 152 years, where more Americans were battle casualties, 23,000, than in all of America’s prior wars combined.  His courage stood out during two days when courage was not in short supply on either side.

Lieutenant Colonel S.F. Ferguson, an aide de camp to General Beauregard, was placed in command of a brigade during the battle of Shiloh.  One of the regiments was the Orleans Guard in which Father Turgis was chaplain.  In his report to General Beauregard he stated “and of Father I. Turgis, who, in the performance of his holy offices, freely exposed himself to the balls of the enemy”, in commending the priest’s courage.

Here is a summary of a letter written after Shiloh that Father Turgis wrote to the formidable Archbishop Jean-Marie Odin, second Archbishop of New Orleans, in which he modestly told him not to believe what the newspapers were saying about his valor at Shiloh:

 

Turgis begs pardon for not having given (Odin) any sign of life since the terrible days of (April) 6 and 7.  He has been trying ever since, as much as his energy permits, to make himself useful visiting the 18th, 24th, 17th, 13th and 4th regiments at Corinth, in all 296 sick, of whom 207 have confessed and 121 have received Communion.  He begs (Odin) to believe nothing which newspapers say in his regard, the Orléans Guards are so favorable to him that they exaggerate everything, regarding as self-sacrifice that which is only the accomplishment of a duty.  About the Battle (of Shiloh): There were about 18 to 20 thousand Catholics, all speaking or understanding French, and he was the only priest.  He gave absolution for 18 hours without stopping, but he cannot prevent himself from weeping continually in thinking about those thousands of Catholics who asked for him and whom it was impossible to see.  The pastor of the cathedral had told him there would be 6 or 7 priests and that he would be unneeded, but without him the elite of their Creole population would have been exposed to being lost for eternity.  If (Odin) could visit some of the wounded in (New Orleans), such as Major or young Labar(?), etc., he believes it would result in great good and also greatly relieve their suffering.  On the field of battle a colonel made him promise to spend eight days amid his brigade of 2,000 men, camped 40 miles away.  All are Catholic. Captain Stayaise (?) of the 4th of Orléans Guards took the name of this place; he went to New Orleans without leaving this address for Turgis.  He asks (Odin) to get it for him. Continue Reading

2

Priest of Andersonville

 

I normally take great pride in being an American, but there are passages in our history which all Americans should be ashamed of.  During our Civil War in many prison camps, both North and South, POWs were treated wretchedly with inadequate shelter, clothing and food.  The worst by far was Andersonville. The vast tragedy at Andersonville came about for a number of reasons. Continue Reading

9

Give to Those Who Are Ready to Give Everything

 

Whenever the collection for the Archdiocese for Military Services comes around, I always dig deep to give a contribution and I hope all of you do also.  As faithful readers of this blog know, I have special respect for Catholic Chaplains who go in harm’s way to bring the love of Christ onto the battlefield.  Father Z reports that some Catholics on the left, surprise!, disagree:

 

 

Fishwrap (aka National Schismatic Reporter) has yet another attack piece against the important collection to be taken up this weekend for the Archdiocese for Military Services.

In other words they are attacking Catholic chaplains.

In the latest divisive hate piece Fishwrap has this suggestion:

Outside the clergy, a small, lay-led online effort seeks to offer Catholics opposed to the collection an alternative when the basket makes its way through the pews.

Catholics Against Militarism has made available on its website downloadable cards for Catholics opposed to the collection “to put in the collection basket instead of money, just to make their voices heard,” member Ellen Finnigan said.

The cards, in part, read: “A nationwide collection for AMS sends a message to American Catholics that the Catholic Church condones America’s current military activity and post-9-11 wars. … Church is no place to glorify the ideals of the professional military class, which run contrary to most, if not all, Christian beliefs and teachings, including the Christian Just War theory. Today, in a spirit of peace, I offer my dissent.”

Fishwrap upbraids those who create “divisiveness” or who use sharp rhetoric.

And yet here is Fishwrap attacking an established, recognized ministry to well over 1 million lay people, some of whom are children, some of whom are suffering in horrible life-threatening circumstances.  Some of them are poor, they work for almost nothing.

Go here to read the rest.  The collection is tomorrow in my diocese and the effort of the National Catholic Reporter is causing me to up my donation.  I hope you will follow suit.  Here are thirty-eight very good reasons to give to support these very brave priests:

1.   Meek, pious, and brave as a lion

2.  The Dominican and the Devil Dogs

3.  The Irish Brigade at Fredericksburg

4.   Angel of the Trenches

5.   Father John Ireland and the Fifth Minnesota Continue Reading

8

Meek, Pious and Brave as a Lion

 

Father Peter Paul Cooney

 

Peter Paul Cooney was born in County Roscommin, Ireland in 1822.  He went with his family to America at the age of 5.  Raised on a farm in Monroe, Michigan.  Studying at Notre Dame it was perhaps fated that he would become a Holy Cross priest, although he wasn’t ordained until the age of 37.  When the Civil War broke out Father Cooney was at Notre Dame.  Although at 39 he was rather old for a military chaplain, he enlisted in the 35th Indiana Infantry, nicknamed the First Indiana Irish, and served 44 months, the entire War, with the 35th.

In a regiment of brave men, mostly Irish, Father Cooney stood out.  After the battle of Murphreesboro the Colonel of the regiment, Bernard F. Mullen, wrote:

To Father Cooney, our chaplain, too much praise cannot be given. Indifferent as to himself, he was deeply solicitous for the temporal comfort and spiritual welfare of us all. On the field he was cool and indifferent to danger, and in the name of the regiment I thank him for his kindness and laborious attention to the dead and dying.

 

After the battle of Nashville, Brigadier General Nathan Kimball summed up the chaplain:

Of Father Cooney, chaplain of the Thirty-fifth Indiana, I commend him as an example of the army chaplin; meek, pious, and brave as a lion, he worked with his brave regiment in the valley of the shadow of death, affording the ministrations of his holy religion to the wounded and dying, and giving words of encouragement to his fellow soldiers.

Before battles, Father Cooney would stand before the regiment, lead the men in prayer and give them mass absolution.  The commander of the Army of the Cumberland, Major General William S. Rosecrans, a fervent Catholic convert, was so taken by this that he ordered the Protestant chaplains in the Army to do likewise!

Father Cooney noted in his letters home to his brother that Protestant soldiers would often attend Mass, especially before a battle, and some of them converted.  He believed that the courage of Catholic soldiers in the Army helped break down prejudice against the Faith that some of their Protestant fellow soldiers had originally harbored.

I have been for the last two months very busy in preparing the men to complete their Easter duty, otherwise I would have written oftener, to you. Our division consists of about twelve thousand men and there are Catholics in every regiment. Protestants attend the sermons by thousands in the open field. I have baptized
many of them and prejudice against to the Church is gone almost entirely.

A short time ago I baptized and gave his first Communion to the Major General commanding our division. He is now a most fervent catholic and his example is powerful over the men of his command. I have every assistance from him in anything that I require for the discharge of my duties. He is extremely kind to me. Continue Reading

2

Pow Servant of God Receives Medal of Honor

The POW Servant of God Father Emil Kapaun received the Medal of Honor on April 11, 2012.  Here is what he did to earn it.

Serving as a chaplain at Fort Bliss, Father Kapaun was ordered to Japan in 1950.  Upon the outbreak of the Korean War, he was assigned to a front line combat unit, the 3rd battalion, 8th cavalry regiment, 1rst Cavalry Division.

With his unit Father Kapaun participated during June-September 1950 in the desperate defense of the Pusan Perimeter and then in the breakout from the Pusan Perimeter, which, combined with the Inchon landings in Operation Chromite, the brilliant stroke by General Douglas MacArthur,  led to the eviction of the invading North Korean armies from South Korea and the capture of the North Korean capital of Pyongyang on October 19, 1950.  During all of this Father Kapaun was a whirlwind of activity:  tending the wounded, administering the Last Sacrament to the dying, keeping up the morale of the troops.  He said mass as close as he could get to the battle lines from an improvised platform on a jeep.

jeep-mass

On November 1, 1950 Chaplain Kapaun’s unit ran headlong into advancing Chinese Communist forces at Unsan, North Korea, about 50 miles south of the Chinese border with North Korea.   The official citation of the award of the Distinguish Service Cross to Chaplain Kapaun tells of his role in the battle:

The Distinguished Service Cross is presented to Emil Joseph Kapaun(O-0558217), Captain (Chaplain), U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection withmilitary operations against an armed enemy of the United Nations while serving as Chaplain with Headquarters Company, 8th Cavalry Regiment (Infantry), 1st Cavalry Division. Captain (Chaplain) Kapaun distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action against enemy aggressor forces in the vicinity of Unsan, Korea, on 1 and 2 November 1950.

On the afternoon of 1 November 1950, and continuing through the following 36 hours, the regiment was subjected to a relentless, fanatical attack by hostile troops attempting to break through the perimeter defense. In the early morning hours, the enemy succeeded in breaking through the defenses, and hand-to-hand combat ensued in the immediate vicinity of the command post where the aid station had been set up. Chaplain Kapaun, with complete disregard for his personal safety, calmly moved among the wounded men, giving them medical aid and easing their fears. His courageous manner inspired all those present and many men who might otherwise have fled in panic were encouraged by his presence and remained to fight the enemy.

As the battle progressed, the number of wounded increased greatly and it became apparent that many of the men would not be able to escape the enemy encirclement. Finally, at dusk on November 2, 1950, the remaining able- bodied men were ordered to attempt to break through the surrounding enemy. At this time, although fully aware of the great danger, Chaplain Kapaun voluntarily remained behind, and when last seen was administering medical treatment and rendering religious rites wherever needed.

Along with the other Americans captured Father Kapaun was marched north in bitterly cold winter weather approximately 100 miles.  One of his fellow prisoners, Herbert Miller, was wounded and had a broken ankle.  Mr. Miller survived the war and here is a recent statement by him on what happened next.  “I was wounded with a broken ankle and the North Koreans were going to shoot me. He brushed them aside, reached down and picked me up and carried me. How he found the strength, I’ll never know. He was the bravest man I ever saw.”

Father Kapaun and his fellow POWs were taken, after their two week march, to a temporary camp which they called The Valley located 10 miles south of Pyoktong, NorthKorea, the first in a series of camps in the area where Father Kapuan and the men from his unit were held.  Of the approximately 1000 Americans who were taken here 500-700 died.  I was astonished in researching this article to learn that during their first year of operation the Chinese POW camps had a death rate of 40%, which makes them worse than the Japanese POW camps during World War II in which approximately one-third of the Allied prisoners perished.

Then the events began which made Father Kapaun unforgettable to the men who survived this Gehenna on Earth.  First, the men needed food.  On the miserable rations they had from the Chinese they were starving to death.  Father Kapaun staged daring daylight raids into surrounding fields to scavenge for hidden potatoes and sacks of corn.  If he had been discovered it is quite likely that he would have been shot on the spot.  He always shared his food with the other men, and his example shamed his fellow prisoners who also scavenged for food outside of the camp to do the same and share their food. Continue Reading

2

The Dominican and the Devil Dogs

Father Paul Redmond

The sons of Saint Dominic have supplied many heroic military chaplains throughout their illustrious history, and one of these men was Father Paul Redmond.  Born on March 27, 1899 in New Haven, Connecticut, he served as an enlisted man in the United States Navy during World War I.  He was ordained a priest in the Dominican order in 1930.

By 1942, Father Redmond was 43 years old, about a decade older than the average chaplain.  No one would have said anything if he had sat this World War out.  Instead he joined the Navy and became a Marine chaplain, and not just any Marine chaplain.  He took a demotion in rank from corps chaplain to battalion chaplain to serve with the 1st and 4th Raider battalions, elite combat formations.  Among men who were brave simply by virtue of qualifying to join such outfits, Chaplain Redmond stood out.  During the campaign on Guam, Father Redmond would go into the mouths of caves occupied by Japanese troops to attempt to convince them to surrender, and I find it difficult to think of anything more hazardous offhand.

In the midst of the attack on Orote Peninsula on Guam, the Chaplain was tending the dying and wounded while under fire.  He called to his assistant Henry to give him a hand.  His assistant was understandably reluctant to expose himself to enemy fire.  Father Redmond yelled to him that as long as he had led a good, clean life nothing would happen to him.  Henry yelled back that he had not led a good, clean life and therefore he was going to sit tight until the firing let up.

One Marine recalled Redmond’s almost preternatural courage: Continue Reading

9

The Irish Brigade at Fredericksburg

“Your soldier’s heart almost stood still as he watched those sons of Erin fearlessly rush to  their deaths. The brilliant assault on Marye’s Heights of their Irish brigade  was beyond description. We forgot they were fighting us and cheer after cheer  at their fearlessness went up all along our lines!”

Confederate Major General George Pickett in a letter to his fiance

A moving video of the Irish Brigade at the battle of Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862, based on the movie Gods and Generals.  It was criminal military malpractice for Burnside, perhaps the most incompetent general in the war, to assault the fortified Confederate positions, but his idiocy does not derogate in the slightest from the extreme heroism of the Union troops who suffered massive casualties while attempting to do the impossible.

The Irish Brigade was one of the units called upon that day to do the impossible.  One of the regiments in the Brigade was the  69th New York, the Fighting 69th as they would be designated by Robert E. Lee for their gallant charge at this battle, a unit faithful readers of this blog are quite familiar with.   This day their chaplain personally blessed each man in the regiment.  They called him Father Thomas Willett.  That was as close as they could get to pronouncing his actual name.

Thomas Ouellet, a French Canadian Jesuit, fit perfectly among a regiment of tough Irishmen.  Normally mild mannered and kind, he could react sternly to sin or to any injustice done to “his boys”.  Abbe Ouellet had been with the regiment from its formation at the beginning of the war.  During the battles of the Seven Days of the Peninsular Campaign earlier in 1862, he had barely slept as he tirelessly tended the wounded and gave the Last Rites to the dying.  After the battle of Malvern’s Hill, he traversed the battlefield all night with a lantern after the Union army had withdrawn, seeking wounded to help and dying to save.  He was captured by Confederates, who, learning he was a priest, treated him with kindness and swiftly released him. Continue Reading

13

Veteran’s Day: Why We Remember

When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say, For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today

Inscription on the memorial to the dead of the British 2nd Infantry Division at Kohima.

World War I was a ghastly conflict with tens of millions of men slaughtered in all the horrors that war in the industrial age was capable of mustering.  After the War which ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, Veterans Day was set aside on November 11 to honor those men who had fought with courage for their country.  In our country Veteran’s Day eventually came to honor all those who had served in the military.  As Lincoln said at Gettysburg, “It is all together fitting and proper that we do this.”  Why it is important that we do that I will leave to Father Francis P. Duffy who served as a chaplain with the Fighting 69th in France in World War I.  You may read prior posts about him here and here.  Father Duffy was a man of faith and courage, so much courage that it was proposed that he be nominated for the Medal of Honor until he laughed at the idea.  His leadership skills were so valued that General Douglas MacArthur even briefly considered placing him, a chaplain, in command of the 69th, which would have been a first in American military history.  When the 69th got back to New York after the War Father Duffy wrote about its reception and why it was important to honor the men who had served, and, especially, the silent victors who remained in graves in France:

It was a deserved tribute to a body of citizen soldiers who had played such a manful part in battle for the service of the Republic. The appreciation that the country pays its war heroes is for the best interest of the State. I am not a militarist, nor keen for military glory. But as long as liberties must be defended, and oppression or aggression put down, there must always be honor paid to that spirit in men which makes them willing to die for a righteous cause. Next after reason and justice, it is the highest quality in citizens of a state. Continue Reading

5

Angel of the Trenches

Joao Baptista DeValles was born in 1879 in Saint Miquel in the Azores.  At the age of 2 his family moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts.  His first name anglicized to John, he quickly proved himself a brilliant student, eventually being fluent in six languages.  Ordained a priest in 1906 he served at Falls River at Espirito Santo Church, founding the first Portuguese language parochial school in the United States while he was there.  He later served at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in New Bedford and was pastor at Saint John the Baptist Church, also in New Bedford.

After the entry of the US into World War I, he joined the Army as a chaplain, serving with the 104th regiment, a Massachusetts National Guard outfit, part of the Yankee (26th) Division, made up of National Guard units from New England.  The Yankee Division arrived in France in September 1917, the second American division to arrive “Over There”.

The 104th was a hard fighting outfit, serving in all of the major campaigns of the American Expeditionary Force.  For heroic fighting at Bois Brule in April, 1918 the French government awarded the regiment a collective Croix de Guerre, an unprecedented honor for an American military unit.  There were quite a few very brave men in the 104th, and among the bravest of the brave was Chaplain DeValles.  For his heroism in rescuing wounded, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest decoration for valor in the United States Army.  Here is the text of the citation:

104th Infantry Regiment, 26th Division, A.E.F. Date of Action: April 10 – 13, 1918 Citation: The Distinguished Service Cross is presented to John B. De Valles, Chaplain, U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in action near Apremont, Toul sector, France, April 10 to 13, 1918. Chaplain De Valles repeatedly exposed himself to heavy artillery and machine-gun fire in order to assist in the removal of the wounded from exposed points in advance of the lines. He worked for long periods of time with stretcher bearers in carrying wounded men to safety. Chaplain De Valles previously rendered gallant service in the Chemin des Dames sector, March 11, 1918, by remaining with a group of wounded during a heavy enemy bombardment. General Orders No. No. 35, W.D., 1920 Continue Reading

10

Father John Ireland and the Fifth Minnesota

 

 

One of the titans of the Catholic Church in the Nineteenth Century in the United States was Archbishop John Ireland, the first Archbishop of Saint Paul, Minnesota.  Future blog posts will cover his career as Archbishop.  This blog post is focused on his service during the Civil War.  Ordained a priest only a year, Father John Ireland at 24 in 1862 received permission of his bishop to join the Fifth Minnesota Volunteer Infantry.  He joined the regiment immediately after the battle of Shiloh.

At the battle of Corinth on October 4, 1862 the Fifth Minnesota saved the day for the Union with a charge that stopped a Confederate breakthrough of the Union lines.  Running short on ammunition, the troops received additional cartridges from Chaplain Ireland who ran down the line dispensing ammunition.  When the fighting was over, the soldiers noted that their chaplain tirelessly tended the wounded and administered the Last Rites to soldiers whose wounds were beyond human aid.

The troops were very fond of their young priest and built him a portable altar from saplings.  His sermons were popular with the men, being direct, blunt and brief.  He was noted for his sunny disposition, quick wit  and his courage.  He was also an enthusiastic chess player, and would take on all comers in the evenings in camp.

Before battles he would hear the confessions of huge numbers of soldiers, with some Protestant soldiers often asking for admission to the Church.  He was always ready to pray with any soldiers no matter their religion, and give them what comfort he could in reminding them that God was ever at their side during their time of peril.  On one occasion he went to the side of an officer who had been shot and was bleeding to death and had asked for a chaplain.   the Archbishop recalled the scene decades after the War.   ‘Speak to me,’ he said, ‘of Jesus.’ He had been baptized — there was no time to talk of Church. I talked of the Savior, and of sorrow for sin. The memory of that scene has never been effaced from my mind. I have not doubted the salvation of that soul.”

Father Ireland was mustered out of service in March of 1863 due to ill-health, but he never forgot his time in the Union Army.  He was ever active in the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union veterans’ organization,   and would write about his experiences as a combat chaplain.  Unlike most Catholics of his day, he was a firm Republican, the friend of Republican presidents including McKinley and Roosevelt, and never forgot why the Civil War had to be fought, as this statement by him regarding the rights of blacks indicates: Continue Reading

8

A Priest Born on Flag Day

One of the most highly decorated chaplains of World War II, Father Elmer W. Heindl used to joke that his decorations were simply due to him being in the wrong place at the right time.  Born on June 14, 1910 in Rochester, New York, the oldest of six children, Heindl decided at an early age that he was meant to be a priest and was ordained on June 6, 1936.  He said that being born on Flag Day indicated to him that during his life he would do something to honor the Stars and Stripes.

In March of 1942 he joined the Army as a chaplain.  Assigned to the 2nd Battalion of th 148th infantry attached to the 37th Division, he served on Guadalcanal, New Georgia and in the Philippines.  He quickly gained a reputation for utter fearlessness under fire, giving the last Rites, tending the wounded and rescuing wounded under fire.    In regard to the Last Rites, Father Heindl noted that he did not have time to check dog tags to see if a dying soldier was a Catholic.  “Every situation was an instant decision.  You didn’t have time to check his dog tag to see whether he was Catholic or not. I’d say, in Latin, ‘If you’re able and willing to receive this sacrament, I give it to you.’ And then leave it up to the Lord.”

He earned a Bronze Star on New Georgia when on July  19 and July 23 he conducted burial services, although in constant danger from Japanese sniper fire.  The citation noted that his cheerful demeanor and courage inspired the troops who encountered him.

During the liberation of the Philippines, Captain Heindl participated in the bitter fighting in Manila.  He earned a Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest award in the United States Army for valor, during the fighting at Bilibid prison to liberate American and Filipino POWs who had been through horrors at the hands of their Japanese captors that I truly hope the readers of this post would find literally unimaginable.  Here is the Distinguished Service Cross citation: Continue Reading

8

Father Galveston

It is ironic that a priest who became so associated with Galveston and Texas was a Yankee!  James Martin Kirwin was born in Circleville, Ohio on July 1, 1872.  Kirwin was ordained to the priesthood on June 19, 1895.   Incardinated in the Diocese of Galveston, Texas, while in the seminary he attended, Father Kirwin was sent to the University of America in Washington, DC by the Bishop of Galveston, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in theology.  His ability being recognized early, Father Irwin was made rector of Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Galveston in 1896.

Throughout his priesthood Father Kirwin was always a whirlwind of activity, and he quickly became noticed for the heroism with which he attended the sick during the yellow fever epidemic of 1897.  During the Spanish-American War he helped raise the First United States Volunteer Infantry and served as its chaplain with the rank of captain.  Although the regiment never served over seas, the fate of most of the American units raised for the Spanish-American War, Father Kirwin’s service began a life long association for him with the Texas National Guard and the United States Army.

Father Kirwin rose to national prominence after the Galveston hurricane of 1900, the worst national disaster in US history which killed approximately 8,000 people.   He helped found a committee of public safety which restored law and order to the city, he drafted the martial law plan, helped with the burial of the dead, and organized and served on the central relief committee which aided victims of the hurricane.  Together with his good friend Rabbi Henry Cohen, he spearheaded the efforts over the next few years to rebuild Galveston, including the building of a seawall for the city, the cornerstone of which he blessed in 1902 and saw through to completion in 1905. Continue Reading

15

Franciscan Love

 For love of Him they ought to expose themselves to enemies both visible and invisible.

Saint Francis of Assisi

 

Born in Louisville, Kentucky on July 17, 1913, Herman G. Felhoelter was ordained a Franciscan priest in 1939.  He served as an Army chaplain during War II and was awarded a Bronze Star.

Reenlisting in the Army after the war, on July 16th 1950 he was a Captain serving as a chaplain with the 19th Infantry in Korea.  The 19th was in a tough spot that day.  The North Koreans had established a road block in the rear of the regiment near the village of Tunam, South Korea.  The regiment was in retreat, moving through mountains, trying to get around the roadblock, and slowed by the numerous wounded being carried due to the heavy fighting with the North Koreans during the battle for Taegu.  It was obvious by 9:00 PM on the evening of July 16th that 30 of the most seriously wounded could go no farther due to their stretcher bearers being exhausted.  Father Felhoelter and the chief medical officer Captain Linton J. Buttrey volunteered to stay with the wounded while the rest of the men escaped.  Father  Felhoelter was under no illusions of what would happen to the wounded and to him after the advancing North Koreans captured them, and swiftly gave them the Last Rites while he tended to them. Continue Reading

3

Father Ranger

Monsignor Joseph R. Lacy

The men of the 5th Ranger Battalion could barely keep from laughing when they first saw their chaplain, Lieutenant Joe Lacy, a week before D-Day.  These were young men, in peak physical condition.  Father Joe Lacy was old by Ranger standards, knocking on 40, overweight by at least 30 pounds, wearing thick glasses and short, 5 foot, six inches.  He was described by one Ranger as “a small, fat old Irishman.”  No way would he be able to keep up when they  invaded France.

On the trip across the Channel to France,  Chaplain Lacy told the men:  “When you land on the beach and you get in there, I don’t want to see anybody kneeling down and praying. If I do I’m gonna come up and boot you in the tail. You leave the praying to me and you do the fighting.”  A few of the men began to think that maybe this priest was tougher than he looked. Continue Reading

28

This is Still America, Isn’t It?

 

In my mispent youth I wore Army green for a few years.  My main contribution to the nation’s defense was when I was discharged, but I have always retained a fondness for the Army.  Therefore I have very strong feelings about the attempt by the Obama administration to censor Archbishop Timothy Broglio, the Catholic Archbishop for the military services in the US.

 

On Thursday, January 26, Archbishop Broglio emailed a pastoral letter to Catholic military chaplains with instructions that it be read from the pulpit at Sunday Masses the following weekend in all military chapels. The letter calls on Catholics to resist the policy initiative, recently affirmed by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, for federally mandated health insurance covering sterilization, abortifacients and contraception, because it represents a violation of the freedom of religion recognized by the U.S. Constitution.

The Army’s Office of the Chief of Chaplains subsequently sent an email to senior chaplains advising them that the Archbishop’s letter was not coordinated with that office and asked that it not be read from the pulpit.  The Chief’s office directed that the letter was to be mentioned in the Mass announcements and distributed in printed form in the back of the chapel.

Archbishop Broglio and the Archdiocese stand firm in the belief, based on legal precedent, that such a directive from the Army constituted a violation of his Constitutionally-protected right of free speech and the free exercise of religion, as well as those same rights of all military chaplains and their congregants.

Following a discussion between Archbishop Broglio and the Secretary of the Army, The Honorable John McHugh, it was agreed that it was a mistake to stop the reading of the Archbishop’s letter.  Additionally, the line: “We cannot — we will not — comply with this unjust law” was removed by Archbishop Broglio at the suggestion of Secretary McHugh over the concern that it could potentially be misunderstood as a call to civil disobedience.
The AMS did not receive any objections to the reading of Archbishop Broglio’s statement from the other branches of service. Continue Reading

2

Sunday in Paradise

 

aloysius-h-schmitt

 

Lieutenant j.g. Aloysius Schmitt had just finished morning mass aboard the USS Oklahoma.  Acting chaplain of the Okie, a Sunday meant a busy day for him, a relaxed day for almost everyone else on board the ship.  Since they were in port and the country was at peace a Sunday was a day of rest.  Besides,  the port was a tropical paradise.  Life was good for the crew of the Okie.

Father Schmitt, born on December 4, 1909, was an Iowan, about as far from the sea as it is possible to be in the US.  Studying in Rome for the priesthood, he was ordained on December 8, 1935.  After serving at parishes in Dubuque Iowa and Cheyenne, Wyoming, Father Schmitt received permission to join the Navy and was commissioned a Lieutenant j.g. on June 28, 1939.

On December 7, 1941 at 8:00 AM the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor began.  The Oklahoma and the other battleships on battleship row were the primary targets.  Alarms began to sound on the Oklahoma, and the ship was hit almost immediately by nine torpedoes from Japanese torpedo bombers.  The ship began to list badly and every sailor knew that it was probably just a few minutes before the Okie would capsize. Continue Reading

2

He Outranked Stonewall

 

 

James B. Sheeran knew many roles in his life:  husband, father, Catholic priest and soldier, and whatever his role he gave everything he had.  Born in Temple Mehill, County Longford, Ireland, in either 1814 or 1818, he emigrated to Canada at the age of 12.  Eventually he settled in Monroe, Michigan and taught at a school run by the Redemptorist Fathers.  He married and he and his wife had a son and daughter.

Tragedy stalked the family.  Sheeran’s wife died in 1849 and his son also died of illness.  His daughter became a nun, but also died young of an illness.  Rather than retreat into bitterness, always a temptation for a man afflicted with so much sorrow, Sheeran decided that God was calling him to a new path and joined the Redemptorists, being ordained a priest in 1858.  He was sent to a parish in New Orleans.  In the Crescent City he found that he liked the people and became an ardent Southerner.  When Louisiana seceded, he became a chaplain in the 14th Louisiana, which served in the Army of Northern Virginia under General Robert E. Lee.

Father Sheeran was a priest who believed in speaking his mind.  An example of this was caused by his habit of helping enemy wounded after he had helped the wounded Confederates.  His unit had captured a Union field hospital and Father Sheeran went over to it and was appalled to see that the wounded were not being cared for.  He kept a diary throughout the War and he recorded the following:

The union soldiers “told me that they had no bandages to dress the wounds, no instruments to operate with, and that they were fatigued from the labors of the night.”

“I remarked it would be some consolation to their wounded if they would but visit them and wash the wound of those who were bathed in their own blood. I next went to their men paroled to attend to the wounded, asked why they did not wait on their companions, many of whom were suffering for a drink of water. They told me that they had no one to direct them, that their surgeons seemed to take no interest in the men.”

“I became somewhat indignant to hear the excuses of these worthless nurses, and putting on an air of authority ordered them to go to the rifle pits filled with the dead bodies of their companions and they would find hundreds of knapsacks filled with shirts, handkerchiefs and other articles that would make excellent bandages.”

“They obeyed my orders with the utmost alacrity and soon returned with their arms full of excellent bandage material, and bringing them to me asked: ‘Now sir, what shall we do with them?’” Sheeran was fully prepared to give the required final direction. “Go and tell your surgeons that you have bandages enough now.”

“Off they went to the surgeons….”. “In about two hours I returned and was pleased to find the surgeons and nurses all at work attending to their wounded.”

Father Sheeran did not restrict his outspokenness only to Union soldiers.  His friend Father James Flynn in 1892 wrote about one memorable run in Father Sheeran had with the legendary Stonewall Jackson:

“Going to his [Father Sheeran’s] tent one day, General Jackson sternly rebuked the priest for disobeying his orders, and reproached him for doing what he would not tolerate in any officer in his command. [The exact offense is unknown.] ‘Father Sheeran,’ said the general, ‘you ask more favors and take more privileges than any officer in the army.’ [Sheeran apparently replied] ‘General Jackson, I want you to understand that as a priest of God I outrank every officer in your command. I even outrank you, and when it is a question of duty I shall go wherever called.’ The General looked with undistinguished astonishment on the bold priest and without reply left his tent.”

This incident obviously left an impression on General Jackson.  Just before the battle of Chancellorsville he had ordered that all baggage be sent to the rear which included tents.  Chaplain Sheeran immediately sent in his resignation, claiming that his tent was necessary for him to perform his duties as a priest.  Dr. Hunter McGuire, chief surgeon of the Second Corps, reported on what happened next:

“I said to General Jackson, that I was very sorry to give up [the] Father–; that he was one of the most useful chaplains in the service. He replied: ‘If that is the case he shall have a tent.’ And so far as I know this Roman Catholic priest was the only man in the corps who had one.” Continue Reading

6

Father Francis P. Duffy: War and Humor

“If you want an example of how you ought to worship God, go over to the 69th.  You’ll see hundreds of sturdy men kneeling on the ground hearing mass.”

Father Francis P. Duffy in a letter to Cardinal Farley

A recent National Guard video on Father Francis P. Duffy.  I have written about Father Duffy here.  His courage as a chaplain with the Fighting 69th made him a legend in his own time.  However, courage was only one of his virtues.  Just as appreciated by the young soldiers he helped shepherd through the hell of trench warfare in World War I France was his sense of humor.  Here are a few samples:

Amongst the sturdiest and brightest of our recruits were two young men who had recently been Jesuit Novices. I amused one Jesuit friend and, I am afraid, shocked another by saying that they were exercising a traditional religious privilege of seeking a higher state of perfection by quitting the Jesuits and joining the 69th.

The newcomers are not yet accustomed to the special church regulations relieving soldiers of the obligation of Friday abstinence. Last Friday the men came back from a hard morning’s drill to find on the table a generous meal of ham and cabbage. The old-timers from the Border pitched into this, to the scandal of many of the newer men who refused to eat it, thus leaving all the more for the graceless veterans. After dinner a number of them came to me to ask if it were true that it was all right. I said it was, because there was a dispensation for soldiers. “Dispensation,” said a Jewish boy, “what good is a dispensation for Friday to me. I can’t eat ham any day of the week. Say, Father, that waiter guy, with one turn of his wrist, bust two religions.”

I asked one of the men how he liked the idea of going to confession to a priest who cannot speak English. “Fine, Father,” he said with a grin,  “All he could do was give me a penance, but you’d have given me hell.” Continue Reading

39

Give Us This Day

William Thomas Cummings, pictured viewer’s left in the above photograph, is known for the phrase, “There are no atheists in foxholes.”  This is the story of the priest behind the phrase.

Born in 1903 he studied at Saint Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, California and was ordained a priest in 1928.  Wanting to be a missionary priest he joined the Maryknoll Order.  In December 1941 he was serving as a missionary priest in the Philippines.  On December 7, 1941 he showed up at the American Army headquarters in Manila in white vestments and offered his services as a chaplain.  The commandant of the Manila garrison attempted to talk him out of it.  He was 38, old for a combat chaplain, and he was nursing a back injury.  He was also near-sighted and lean as a rake.  Father Cummings vehemently replied that he was determined to be an Army chaplain.    Commissioned as a first lieutenant, he joined the Army in its epic retreat to the Bataan peninsula, where American and Filipino troops, on starvation rations and wracked with malaria, would make a heroic stand for months against the Japanese Imperial Army.

Believing themselves deserted by the US, the troops sang this bit of bitter doggerel:

We’re the battling bastards of Bataan,

No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam.

No aunts, no uncles, no cousins, no nieces,

No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces.

And nobody gives a damn.

General Douglas MacArthur, in command of all American and Filipino troops in the Philippines, continually pleaded with Washington for a relief force to Bataan.  Shamefully, some of the messages from Washington indicated that a relief force was being put together.   These were lies.   After Pearl Harbor the US simply lacked the naval assets to successfully reinforce Bataan.  Any attempt to do so would almost certainly have led to a military disaster for America.  MacArthur refused an order that he leave Bataan, and stated that he would resign his commission and fight as a volunteer.  He finally left after a direct order from President Roosevelt, but refused to be smuggled out in a submarine, instead going by PT boat to demonstrate that the Japanese blockade of the Philippines could be penetrated.  After he arrived in Australia he was shocked to learn that there were no plans for the relief of the Philippines.  His main goal throughout the war thereafter was the liberation of the Philippines and the rescue of the American and Filipino POWs.

On Bataan Chaplain Cummings quickly became an Army legend.   On Good Friday 1942 at a Bataan field hospital undergoing bombardment Nurse Hattie Bradley witnessed Father Cummings in action:  More piercing screams. Scores must be dead or dying, she was convinced. She dashed into the orthopedic ward for help. There, panic was on the verge of erupting. Then she saw the chaplain…standing on a desk. Above the roar of the airplanes, the explosions and the shrieks of the wounded, his voice could be heard: “Our Father, who art in heaven…” Calmed by his prayers, the patients quieted.”  Father Cummings did this in spite of one of his arms being broken by shrapnel from a bomb. 

On Bataan he was always with the troops near or on the front line.  He said innumerable Masses, administered the Last Rites to the dying and helped with the wounded.  His field sermons were memorable.  In one of them he made the famous observation that “There are no atheists in foxholes.”  The quotation was passed on in the book “I Saw the Fall of the Philippines” by General Carlos P. Romulo, one of the Filipino troops evacuated from Bataan, which was published in 1942.

Continue Reading

1

Matthew Brady, Father Thomas H. Mooney, Dagger John and the Fighting 69th

The above photo is one of the archetypal Matthew Brady photographs of the Civil War.  Whenever religion in the Civil War is mentioned in a history, odds are you will see this picture.  It was taken on June 1, 1861 in the camp of the 69th New York, later to be christened The Fighting 69th  by no less an authority on fighting  than Robert E. Lee, and it depicts Mass being said by Father Thomas H. Mooney, the first chaplain of The Fighting 69th.

Born in Manchester, England, and ordained in 1853 in New York City, Father Mooney had been pastor of Saint Brigid’s in New york City, as well as being the chaplain of the 69th New York.  Archbishop Hughes of New York City, known universally by friend and foe as “Dagger John”, warned Father Mooney about the large number of Fenians, a precursor of the Irish Republican Army, who had enlisted in the regiment:

“They are incompetent to be admitted to the Sacraments of the Church during life and of Christian burial after death, unless they shall in the meantime renounce such obligations as have been just referred to. In regard to the whole subject, you will please to exercise all the discretion and all the charity that religion affords: but speak to the men and tell each one (not all at one time) that he is jeopardizing his soul if he perseveres in this uncatholic species of combination.”

The Church in Ireland and America had a mostly negative view of the Fenians due to an overall opposition to revolutionary movements in Europe by Pope Pius IX and because the Fenians called for a separation of Church and State In Ireland.

The 69th was one of the first Union regiments to go to Washington in 1861 in response to Lincoln’s call for volunteers.  Father Mooney went with it, and quickly proved extremely popular with the men and officers of the regiment.  He founded a temperance society in the regiment,  held daily Masses and confessions, and was tireless in reminding wayward soldiers in the regiment that this was a great opportunity for them to return to the Faith.  A correspondent for the New York Times reported on the high esteem in which Father Mooney was held:

As for the Sixty-ninth, they turned out more than twelve hundred muskets, leaving yet another hundred — the newly-arrived Zouaves — in their late headquarters at the College. This Regiment has grown into great fever in Washington — not a single one of its members ever having become amenable to the police authorities in any way; and its discipline and efficiency having frequently been made the subject of complimentary notice by Gens SCOTT and MANSFIELD. For very much of the good order and moral restraint existing in the ranks, it is doubtless indebted to the ceaseless and zealous exertions of Father THOMAS MOONEY, an admirable specimen-priest of the true high type, who, if he were not chaplain, would certainly be a candidate for Colonel — fate and a sanguine temper giving him equal adaptation to the sword of the spirit and the “regulation sword” — a veritable son of the church-militant. But this again is a degression.

Father Mooney’s career as a chaplain was cut short by “Dagger John”.   On June 13, 1861 the 69th was helping to emplace a rifled cannon in Fort Corcoran, named after Colonel Corcoran the commander of the 69th, near Washington.  Everyone was in high spirits.  Father Mooney was called upon to bless the cannon.  Instead, he decided to baptize the cannon. Continue Reading

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The Fighting 69th

Something for the weekend.  The Fighting 69th sung by the WolfTones.

Formed in 1851, the regiment served during the Civil War as part of the Irish Brigade.  The 69th earned its “fighting” sobriquet, according to legend, when General Robert E. Lee at Fredericksburg, told that the 69th had made a gallant assault against the Confederate lines, and recalling the regiment from the Seven Days battles, stated “Ah yes.  That fighting 69th.”  Made up mostly of Irishmen during the Civil War,  the regimental battle cry was Faugh an Beallach,  Clear the Way.    The regimental motto was the traditional, and accurate, observation about the Irish:  “Gentle when stroked;  fierce when provoked”. Continue Reading

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Father John B. Bannon: Confederate Chaplain and Diplomat

 

There were a great many brave men during the Civil War, but I think it is a safe wager that none were braver than Father John B. Bannon.  Born on January 29, 1829 in Dublin, Ireland, after he was ordained a priest he was sent in 1853 to Missouri to minister to the large Irish population in Saint Louis.  In 1858 he was appointed pastor of St. John’s parish on the west side of the city.  Always energetic and determined, he was instrumental in the construction Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist church.  Out of his hectic schedule he somehow found time to become a chaplain in the Missouri Volunteer Militia and became friends with many soldiers who, unbeknownst to them all, would soon be called on for something other than peaceful militia drills.  In November 1860 he marched with the Washington Blues under the command of Captain Joseph Kelly to defend the state from Jayhawkers from “Bleeding Kansas”.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, most of the Saint Louis Irish were strongly Confederate in their sympathies and Father Bannon was of their number.  The Irish viewed the conflict in light of their experiences in Ireland with the English invaders, with the Southerners in the role of the Irish and the Northerners as the English.   Confederate militia gathered at Camp Jackson after the firing on Fort Sumter, and Father Bannon went there as chaplain of the Washington Blues.  Camp Jackson eventually surrendered to Union forces, and Father Bannon was held in Union custody until May 11, 1861.  He resumed his parish duties, although he made no secret from the pulpit where his personal sympathies lay.  Targeted for arrest by the Union military in Saint Louis, on December 15, 1861, he slipped out of the back door of his rectory, in disguise and wearing a fake beard,  as Union troops entered the front door. 

He made his way to Springfield, Missouri where Confederate forces were gathering, and enlisted in the Patriot Army of Missouri under the colorful General Sterling Price, who would say after the War that Father Bannon was the greatest soldier he ever met.

He became a chaplain in the First Missouri Confederate Brigade, and would serve in that capacity until the unit surrendered at Vicksburg on July 4, 1863.  He quickly became a legend not only in his brigade, but in the entire army to which it was attached and an inspiration to the soldiers, Catholic and Protestant alike.  At the three day battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas, March 6-8, 1862, he disobeyed orders for chaplains to remain in the rear and joined the soldiers on the firing line, giving human assistance to the wounded, and divine assistance for those beyond human aid.  For Catholic soldiers he would give them the Last Rites, and Protestant soldiers, if they wished, he would baptize. Continue Reading

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Chesty Puller and Catholic Chaplains

 

Some men become legends after their deaths and others become legends while they are alive.  Lewis Burwell Puller, forever known as “Chesty”, was in the latter category.  Enlisting in the Marine Corps in 1918 he would serve until 1955, rising in rank from private to lieutenant general.  Throughout his career he led from the front, never asking his men to go where he would not go.  For his courage he was five times awarded the Navy Cross,  a Silver Star,  a Distinguished Service Cross, and a Bronze Star with a v for valor, along with numerous other decorations.  In World War II and Korea he became a symbol of the courage that Marines amply displayed in  both conflicts.

His fourth Navy Cross citation details why the Marines under his command would have followed him in an attack on Hades if he had decided to lead them there:

“For extraordinary heroism as Executive Officer of the Seventh Marines, First Marine Division, serving with the Sixth United States Army, in combat against enemy Japanese forces at Cape Gloucester, New Britain, from 26 December 1943 to 19 January 1944. Assigned temporary command of the Third Battalion, Seventh Marines, from 4 to 9 January, Lieutenant Colonel Puller quickly reorganized and advanced his unit, effecting the seizure of the objective without delay. Assuming additional duty in command of the Third Battalion, Fifth Marines, from 7 to 8 January, after the commanding officer and executive officer had been wounded, Lieutenant Colonel Puller unhesitatingly exposed himself to rifle, machine-gun and mortar fire from strongly entrenched Japanese positions to move from company to company in his front lines, reorganizing and maintaining a critical position along a fire-swept ridge. His forceful leadership and gallant fighting spirit under the most hazardous conditions were contributing factors in the defeat of the enemy during this campaign and in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”

Stories began to cluster about him.  When he was first shown a flame thrower he supposedly asked, “Where do you mount the bayonet?”    Advised that his unit was surrounded he replied:  “All right, they’re on our left, they’re on our right, they’re in front of us, they’re behind us…they can’t get away this time.”  On an inspection tour of a Marine unit he became exasperated at the lack of spirit he saw and finally said,”Take me to the Brig. I want to see the real Marines!”  During the Chosin campaign in Korea when the Marines were fighting their way to the coast through several Communist Chinese corps he captured the tactical situation succinctly:  “We’ve been looking for the enemy for some time now. We’ve finally found him. We’re surrounded. That simplifies things.”  Little surprise that Marine Drill Instructors at Parris Island still have their boots sing good night to Chesty Puller some four decades after his death.

Puller was an Episcopalian.  However he made no secret that he greatly admired Navy Catholic chaplains who served with the Marines, and had little use, with certain honorable exceptions, for the Navy Protestant chaplains sent to the Corps.  His reasons were simple.  The Catholic chaplains were without fear, always wanted to be with the troops in combat, and the men idolized them for their courage and their willingness, even eagerness, to stand with them during their hour of trial. Continue Reading

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The Priest and the Marine

Born on January 3, 1936, one of five kids, Robert R. Brett knew from an early age what the wanted to be.    As his sister Rosemary Rouse noted, “He always wanted to be a priest. He was always there for everyone.”

He attended Saint Edmond’s and Saint Gabriel’s grade schools and then attended a preparatory seminary for high school.  Brett entered the Marist novitiate at Our Lady of the Elms on Staten Island and made his profession of vows on September 8, 1956.  Studying at Catholic University, he received a BA in philosophy in 1958 and a Master’s Degree in Latin in 1963.  He was ordained a priest of the Society of Mary in 1962 by Bishop Thomas Wade at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

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The Archbishop and the Concentration Camp

Retired Archbishop Philip. M. Hannan of New Orleans, still alive at the age of 97, discusses his service in the video above, made in 2007, with the 505th parachute infantry regiment of the 82nd Airborne in World War II.  Ordained at the North American College in Rome on December 8, 1939, he served with the 82nd Airborne as a chaplain from 1942-46, and was known as the Jumping Padre.  He was assigned to be the chaplain of the 505th Regiment with the rank of Captain shortly after the Battle of the Bulge in 1944.  He had many adventures during his time with the 505th, but perhaps the most poignant was what happened to him on May 5th, 1945, in the final days of the War in Europe.

On May 5, 1945, the 505th overran a concentration camp near Wobbelin in Germany.  Captain Hannan and his assistant James Ospital hurried to the camp to see what they could do to help.  A scene of complete horror awaited them.  Corpses were sprawled everywhere.  Dying prisoners lay in filthy bunks crudely made out of branches.  All the prisoners looked like skeletons, both the dead and the living.  The camp reeked of the smells of a charnel house and a sewer.

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A Chaplain of the Great War

A truly remarkable interview conducted in 1982 of the experiences as a Catholic Chaplain of Father William Bonniwell, O.P.  during World War I.   At the time of the interview Father Bonniwell was 96 and I think his vigor and clarity of recollection and speech are astounding.    I have done my best on this blog to tell the stories of some of the Catholic Chaplains who served in the military in our nation’s history, and it is heartwarming to be able to present a video of one of these brave men telling his story.

After the War he had an illustrious career.  He was a professor of homiletics at the Dominican House of Studies in River Forest, Illinois.   He was head of the Preacher’s Institute in Washington DC.   For  many years  he was on the staff of St. Vincent Ferrer in New York City.  He was the author of  ”Margaret of Castello,” , a biography of the 14th-century Italian Dominican nun, who is a true patron of unwanted children, as she was born a dwarf, hunchbacked, blind and lame and was ultimately rejected by her parents, and throughout her travails radiated the love of God.   He translated from Latin ”The Martyrology of the Sacred Order of Preachers”, and produced the groundbreaking History of the Dominican Liturgy 1215-1945.

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Great Jesuits 5: Medal of Honor

 

 

 

Number 5 in my series on Great Jesuits of American history.  A hallmark of the Jesuit Order has always been utter fearlessness.  The Order founded by that Basque soldier turned saint, Saint Ignatius Loyola, had as little use for fear as it did for doubt.  The “black robes” of the Jesuits in New France were typical of the Jesuit soldiers of Christ in their almost super-human courage in disdaining the torture and death they exposed themselves to as missionaries to warlike tribes.

Firmly in this tradition of courage is Joseph Timothy O’Callahan.  Born on May 14, 1905 in Roxbury, Massachusetts, he attended Boston College High School.  He joined the Jesuits in 1922  and obtained his BA from Saint Andrew’s College in Poughkeepsie, New York in 1925, and his Masters in Philosophy at Weston College in 1929.  Ordained in 1934, he served as a professor of Mathematics, Philosophy and Physics at Boston College until 1937.  He then spent a year as a professor of Philosophy at Weston Jesuit School of Theology, before becoming head of the Mathematics department at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.

On August 7, 1940, Father O’Callahan was appointed a Lieutenant JG in the United States Navy.  His decision to join the Navy as a chaplain shocked some of his friends, one of them remarking, “Let someone younger help those boys.  You can’t even open your umbrella!”  Nothing daunted, Chaplain O’Callahan served at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola,  Florida from 1940-1942.  From 1942-1945 he served as chaplain at Naval Air Stations in Alameda, California and at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.   It was almost at the end of the war when he was assigned to sea duty and reported aboard the Franklin, an Essex Class Fleet Air-Craft Carrier on March 2, 1945.  The Franklin was the fifth ship in the United States Navy to be named after Benjamin Franklin, and had seen a lot of combat during the War.  It was about to see more. Continue Reading

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The Irish Brigade at Fredericksburg

A moving video of the Irish Brigade at the battle of Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862, based on the movie Gods and Generals.  It was criminal military malpractice for Burnside, perhaps the most incompetent general in the war, to assault the fortified Confederate positions, but his idiocy does not derogate in the slightest from the extreme heroism of the Union troops who suffered massive casualties while attempting to do the impossible.

The Irish Brigade was one of the units called upon that day to do the impossible.  One of the regiments in the Brigade was the  69th New York, the Fighting 69th as they would be designated by Robert E. Lee for their gallant charge at this battle, a unit faithful readers of this blog are quite familiar with.   This day their chaplain personally blessed each man in the regiment.  They called him Father Thomas Willett.  That was as close as they could get to pronouncing his actual name. Continue Reading

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The Fighting Chaplain

William Henry Ironsides Reaney was a cradle Catholic.  He was also cradle Navy, having been born to Commander Henry Aubrey Vailey Reaney and his wife Anne on July 21, 1863.  His middle name was Ironsides after the steamer his father was serving aboard.  Some accounts say that his birth came unexpectedly as his mother was visiting his father aboard ship.  The proud father then asked the crew what name they should call the baby boy and they shouted out, “Ironsides”!  Probably apocryphal, but it was a fitting beginning for the man if true.

After the Civil War, Henry Reaney stayed in the Navy, eventually reaching the rank of Captain, while he and his wife had six children in addition to their first born, William.  The family settled in Detroit, and William graduated from Detroit College.  Deciding on becoming a priest, William enrolled at the Saint Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore.  He was ordained by Cardinal Gibbon at the Cathedral in Baltimore in 1888.  From 1889-1891 he was pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

The ancestral lure of the sea called to Father Reaney, and in 1892 he was appointed a chaplain in the Navy, the second Catholic chaplain in that branch of the service.  He served on many ships as a Navy Chaplain, perhaps the most notable being the Olympia, the flagship of Admiral Dewey during the Spanish-American war.

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Great Jesuits 3: Dynamo From Ireland

Father John McElroy, S. J.

Number 3 of my series on great Jesuits of American history.

A year before the colonies won their fight for independence, John McElroy first saw the light of day in Brookeborough, County Fermanagh, Ireland on May 11,1782.  At this time English imposed penal laws meant that Irish Catholics were treated like helots in their own land.  The great Edmund Burke described the penal laws well:

“For I must do it justice;  it was a complete system, full of coherence and consistency, well digested and well composed in all its parts.   It was a machine of wise and deliberate contrivance, as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man.”

As a result of these laws McElroy could receive little education in Ireland.  Ambition and a thirst for knowledge caused him, like many Irish Catholics before and since, to emigrate to the US, landing on our shores in 1803.  He became a bookkeeper at Georgetown College, studying Latin in his off hours.  In 1806 he joined the Jesuits as a lay brother, but his intelligence and his industry quickly marked him down to his Jesuit superiors as a candidate for the priesthood.  Ordained in 1817 , for several years he served at Trinity Church in Georgetown, until being transferred to Frederick, Maryland, where, during the next twenty-three years, with the boundless energy which was his hallmark,  he built Saint John’s Church, a college, an orphan’s asylum, and the first free schools in Frederick.  He was then transferred back to Trinity in Georgetown where he remained for a year until the Mexican War began.

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Padre of Guadalcanal

BE058992Frederic Gehring was probably lucky that he was born and reared in Brooklyn.  It has always been a tough town and it prepared him for the adventurous life he was to lead.  Born on January 20, 1903,  he went on to attend and graduated from Saint John’s Prep.  Setting his eyes on being a missionary priest, he entered the minor seminary of the Vincentians, Saint Joseph’s, near Princeton,  New Jersey.  Earning his BA in 1925, he entered the seminary of Saint Vincent’s in Philadelphia.

Ordained as a priest on May 22, 1930, he was unable to immediately go to China due to military activity of the Communists in Kiangsi province.  For three years he traveled throughout the US raising funds for the missions in China, and, at long last, in 1933 he was able to pack his bags and sailed for China.  Laboring in the Chinese missions from 1933-1939 in the midst of warlordism, civil war and the invasion of China, commencing in 1937, by Japan must have been tough, but Father Gehring was always up to any challenge.  For example,  in 1938 Japanese planes strafed a mission he was at.  Father Gehring ran out waving a large American flag in hopes that the Japanese would not wish to offend a powerful neutral nation and would stop the strafing.  The Japanese planes did fly off, and Father Gehring was pleased until someone at the mission pointed out that maybe the Japanese had simply run out of ammo!  In 1939 Father Gerhring returned to the States to raise funds for the missions.

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Into the Minefield

Father Craig in Minefield

October 27, 1913.  The Great War was soon to begin in Europe and Leo Peter Craig was born into this world in Everett, Massachusetts.  He was five years old when his mother died, leaving his father with five young children to raise.  Under these unusual circumstances, his Aunt, Veronica Craig, a member of the Dominican Sisters of Springfield Kentucky, received a dispensation from her vows in order for her to help raise her brother’s children.  For 18 years she dedicated herself to this task, becoming a second mother to young Leo.  After the children were all raised, she returned to the religious life.  Leo attended the LaSalle Academy of the Christian Brothers in Providence, Rhode Island.  Going on to Providence College, he obtained his BA in 1935, at which time he entered the Dominican novitiate at Saint Rose’s in Springfield, Kentucky.  He completed his philosophy courses at the Dominican House of Studies in River Forest, Illinois, and his theological training at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC.  He was ordained to the priesthood on May 21, 1942.

Father Leo P. Craig

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POW Servant of God Recommended for Medal of Honor

Father Emil Kapaun

Hattip to the Curt Jester.  Father Emil Kapaun, the POW Servant of God who died a heroic death in a Chinese POW camp during the Korean War, and who I have written about here, here and here may soon have a new earthly honor.  Army Secretary Peter Geren has recommended that Father Kapaun be awarded the Medal of Honor.  Now it is up to Congress to pass the legislation to send the award on to President Obama.  I recall when I drafted my original post I was surprised that Father Kapaun had not been awarded the Medal of Honor since clearly he had earned it many times over.  If awarded the Medal, he would bring the number of chaplains to eight who have received the highest military decoration this nation can bestow.

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Great Jesuits 2: Chaplain of the Excelsior Brigade

ohagan

Excelsior Brigade

Part 2 of my series on great Jesuits in American history.  Ireland has given many great gifts to the United States of America and one of them was Joseph B. O’Hagan who was born in the Olde Sod in County Tyrone on August 15, 1826, the feast of the Assumption.  His family emigrating to Nova Scotia, he entered the seminary in 1844.  Meeting a Boston Jesuit in 1847, he joined the order in December of that year.  Finishing his theological studies in Louvain, he was ordained a priest in 1861.

Returning to the US he joined the Union Army as a chaplain for the New York Excelsior Brigade, one of the hardest fighting outfits in the Army of the Potomac.  Assigned to the 73rd New York, at first Father O’Hagan didn’t think much of many of his fellow soldiers as this passage from a letter he wrote on August 7, 1861 indicates:  “Such a collection of men was never before united in one body since the flood. Most of them were the scum of New York society, reeking with vice and spreading a moral malaria around them. Some had been serving terms of penal servitude on Blackwell’s Island at the outbreak of the war, but were released on condition of enlisting in the army of the Union, and had gladly accepted the alternative..”  The sense of humor of Father O’Hagan is demonstrated by his account of a regiment electing a chaplain:  “Over four hundred voted for a Catholic priest, one hundred and fifty-four, for any kind of a protestant minister; eleven, for a Mormon elder; and three hundred and thirty-five said they could find their way to hell without the assistance of clergy.” . Continue Reading

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Father Cyclone and the Fighting 69th

Father Larry Lynch

 

Larry Lynch was born, the first of 12 kids in his family, in the City Line neighborhood of Brooklyn on October 17, 1906.  He grew up on some pretty tough streets while also serving as an altar boy at Saint Sylvester’s.   He came to greatly admire the Redemptorists, an order of missionary priests founded by Saint Alphonsus Liguori in 1732.  In America the order had distinguished itself by its work in some of the roughest slums in the country and thus it was small wonder that a tough street kid would be attracted to them.  Larry Lynch was ordained a priest in the Redemptorist Order in 1932. Continue Reading

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Hero of the Maine

Monsignor Chidwick

 The Maine

Night, February 15, 1898, the American battleship USS Maine lay at anchor in the harbor of Havana.  Although tensions were running high between the US government and Spain, the colonial power occupying Cuba, the night was calm.  Suddenly, at 9:40 PM,  a huge explosion devastated the forward section of the Maine, an external explosion setting off the powder in the magazines of the Maine.  Into this vision of hell on Earth strode the Catholic Chaplain of the Maine, John P. Chidwick. Continue Reading

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Vatican Finds Evidence of POW Servant of God's Miracle

KAPAUN

Hattip to Creative Minority Report and to Father Zimmerman.  As I detailed here,  a miracle attributed to the intercession of Father Emil Kapaun, the heroic Army Catholic Chaplain who died in a Chinese POW camp during the Korean War, has been under investigation by the Vatican.  As reported here, the Vatican investigator Andrea Ambrosi has apparently found indications of the miraculous having taken place.  Perhaps one day I will be able to refer to Father Kapaun not as the POW Servant of God but as the POW Saint!

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A Miracle For Father Kapaun, the POW Servant of God?

KAPAUN

In April of this year I wrote a post about the remarkable POW Servant of God, Father Emil Kapaun, a heroic Catholic Chaplain who died in a Chinese POW camp during the Korean War.  Now, and a grateful hattip to reader Rick Lugari, the Vatican is investigating a miracle attributed to the intercession of  Father Kapaun.

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Father Ranger

Monsignor Joseph R. Lacy

The men of the 5th Ranger Battalion could barely keep from laughing when they first saw their chaplain, Lieutenant Joe Lacy, a week before D-Day.  These were young men, in peak physical condition.  Father Joe Lacy was old by Ranger standards, knocking on 40, overweight by at least 30 pounds, wearing thick glasses and short, 5 foot, six inches.  He was described by one Ranger as “a small, fat old Irishman.”  No way would he be able to keep up when they  invaded France.

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The Mass on Mount Suribachi

mass-on-mount-suribachi1

Iwo Jima probably has the sad distinction of being the most expensive piece of worthless real estate in the history of the globe.  Expensive not in something as minor as money, but costly in something as all important as human lives.  In 1943 the island had a civilian population of 1018 who scratched a precarious living from sulfur mining, some sugar cane farming and fishing.  All rice and consumer goods had to be imported from the Home Islands of Japan.  Economic prospects for the island were dismal.  Eight square miles, almost all flat and sandy, the dominant feature is Mount Suribachi on the southern tip of the island, 546 feet high, the caldera of the dormant volcano that created the island.  Iwo Jima prior to World War II truly was “of the world forgetting, and by the world forgot”.

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