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 for valor in the United States Army, 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: (more…)

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Published in: on June 14, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on A Priest Born on Flag Day  
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Saints of Lent: The POW Servant of God

(I posted this over at The American Catholic and I thought the history mavins of Almost Chosen People might enjoy it.)

 

Lent is a grand time to confront evil, both that evil which stains our souls, and the evil external to us.  Throughout the history of the Church there have been saints who risked all to bravely confront the popular evils of their time.  This Lent on each Sunday we will be looking at some of those saints.  We began with Saint Athanasius.  Go here to read about him.  Next we looked at Saint John Fisher.  Go here to read about him. Next we looked at the life of Saint Oliver Plunket.  Go here to read about him.  Last week we turned to the Lion of Munster.  Go here to read about him.  For this final Sunday before Holy Week we look at the man I have designated the 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. (more…)

Published in: on April 7, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Saints of Lent: The POW Servant of God  
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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.

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. (more…)

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: (more…)

Published in: on August 4, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on My Place Is With Them  
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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.” (more…)

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. (more…)

Published in: on July 16, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Franciscan Paratrooper  
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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. (more…)

Published in: on May 25, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Father Turgis: Preacher By Deeds, Not Words  
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Ladder to Heaven

chaplain-joseph-verbis-lafleur1

Joseph Verbis Lafleur was born into a large Cajun family in Ville Platte Louisiana on January 24, 1912.  From early childhood his ambition was to be a priest.  Entering Saint Joseph’s Minor Seminary in Saint Benedict, Louisiana he quickly became noted for his good humor, quick wit and athletic prowess.  He also had a marked interest in French military history and would recite the last words of Marshal Michel Ney before his execution by the restored Bourbons after the Hundred Days:  “Come see how a soldier dies in battle, but he dies not.”

Ordained in 1938 he was assigned as assistant pastor at Saint Mary Magdalene in Abbeville, Louisiana.  Depression era Louisiana knew poverty that people today would find hard to believe.  Father Lafleur supplied balls, bats and gloves to the boys in his parish and helped organize baseball games.  After his death some of the boys learned that Father Lafleur had purchased the equipment by pawning his wristwatch.

Father LaFleur joined the Army Air Corps in 1941 over six months before Pearl Harbor.  Four months later Lieutenant LaFleur was sent with the 19th Bombardment Group to Clark Field in the Philippines.  The new chaplain was popular with the men:  he helped organize a baseball team, founded a discussion group and his door was always open to them.

On December 8, 1941 the Japanese attacked Clark Field and Chaplain LaFleur sprang into action.  Ignoring exploding bombs and flying shrapnel he helped treat the wounded and administered the Last Rites to those beyond human help.  For his actions that day he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

As the Philippines were conquered by the Japanese Father LaFleur passed up an opportunity for evacuation, stating that his place was with the men. (more…)

Father Major General

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A leap year baby, Francis L. Sampson  was born on February 29, 1912 in Cherokee Iowa.

A quarter of a century later he graduated from Notre Dame and made a bee-line for St. Paul’s Seminary at Saint Paul Minnesota.  Ordained a priest for the Des Moines Iowa diocese on June 1, 1941, he served briefly as a parish priest at Neola, Iowa and taught at Dowling High School in Des Moines.

Eager to become a chaplain, as soon as he received permission from his Bishop Father Sampson enlisted in the United States Army in 1942.  Always looking for a challenge, he became regimental chaplain of the 501st Parachute Regiment of the 101rst Airborne.  In his memoirs, Look Out Below!, Father Sampson wrote about his joining a very tough branch of the service:

“Frankly, I did not know when I signed up for the airborne that chaplains would be expected to jump from an airplane in flight.  Had I known this beforehand, and particularly had I known the tortures of mind and body prepared at Fort Benning for those who sought the coveted parachute wings, I am positive that I should have turned a deaf ear to the plea for airborne chaplains.  However, once having signed up, I was too proud to back out.  Besides, the airborne are the elite troops of  the Army, and I already began to enjoy the prestige and glamour that goes with belonging to such an outfit.”

The newspapers during the war would call him the “Paratrooper Padre”. (more…)

Published in: on August 9, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Father Major General  
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Dynamo From Ireland

Father John McElroy, S. J.

 

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.

I have detailed in a post here how Father McElroy and Father Anthony Rey, both Jesuits, were chosen to be the first Catholic priests to be appointed as chaplains in the United States Army.  In 1886 after his death the reminiscences of Father McElroy were published of what occurred:

“In a few days, the two Fathers called on the Secretary of War for instructions how to proceed. He (Mr. Marcy) received us very affably, expressed his desire that we should visit the President, and ordered his chief clerk to prepare letters for the Commanders of different posts to facilitate our journey; besides he requested me to give him my views of what he should expect while with the Army, which I sent him a little later in writing and which he embodied, almost transcribed, in his despatch to General Taylor. The Secretary introduced us to the President, who received us with great kindness and regard; he expressed a hope that our mission would be one of peace; that we carried not the sword, but the olive branch, that our mission would be a refutation of the erroneous opinions held in Mexico, that the United States warred against their religion, etc. He continued to state very frankly the great desire he had to bring their matters of dispute to an amicable conclusion.

“As neither of us could speak Spanish I proposed to the President the propriety of associating with us a third clergyman who was familiar with the language. He very promptly adopted my suggestion and told the Secretary to embody that in his despatch to the General-in-Chief, where it will be found. (more…)

Published in: on August 7, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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