Catholic Chaplains

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

The Irish Brigade at Fredericksburg

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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

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.

Great Jesuits 2: Chaplain of the Excelsior Brigade

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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

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

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

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!

Father Ranger

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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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POW Servant of God

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In the midst of a World War, Emil Kapaun was born in peaceful Pilsen, Kansas on August 20, 1916.  His parents were Czech immigrants and virtually everyone in the area spoke Czech.  From an early age Emil knew that he wanted to be a priest and would play mass with his younger brother. Continue reading

Priest of Andersonville

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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.

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