Chaplain of the Excelsior Brigade

ohagan

 

Excelsior Brigade

 

 

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.” .

Serving as a Chaplain involved many trials, and Chaplain O’Hagan steeled himself to the task by thinking of the tribulations and obstacles that Saint Francis Xavier overcame in his day.  In time he came to appreciate the courage amply displayed by his fellow soldiers on many a battlefield and how well most of them responded to military discipline and to his own efforts to encourage them to remember their religious duties.  (more…)

Published in: on August 5, 2010 at 5:30 am  Comments (3)  
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