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
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
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
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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”.
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.
James K. Polk, President of the United States, had a problem. The year was 1846 and the US was at war with Mexico, a Catholic nation. A large fraction of the American army was Catholic, usually fairly recent Irish immigrants. Mexican propaganda portrayed the war as a wicked onlslaught by Protestants against a Catholic people and appealed to Catholics in the US army to desert to them, promising them land and a position in the Mexican army. Some troops took them up on their offer, with deserters eventually forming the San Patricios Battalion and fighting for Mexico during the war. To stem such desertions, Polk wanted to appoint Catholic chaplains to the US Army. Although Catholic chaplains had served informally in prior American wars, none had served officially in that capacity. To remedy that, Polk had a quiet private meeting with Archbishop John Hughes of New York. While Dagger John suspected Polk’s political motivations, he agreed to recommend two priests to serve as chaplains: Father Anthony Rey, vice-president of Georgetown and a Jesuit, and Father John McElroy, also a Jesuit, who went on to found Boston College and who will be the subject of a future post.