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.

Born in New York City on October 23, 1863,  John Chidwick graduated from Manhattan College with a BA (1883) and an MA (1885).  Ordained at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, New York in 1887,  he spent several years serving as a parish priest before being commissioned in 1895 as the third Catholic Chaplain in the history of the United States Navy.  He was eventually assigned to the Maine.  He rapidly became popular with the members of the crew, no matter their religion.  Friendly and outgoing, he did whatever he could to help the crew and was always available to listen to their problems.

When he arrived on deck on the night of the destruction of the Maine, Father Chidwick instantly gave a mass absolution.  He then sprang into action, rescuing wounded, giving first aid, and giving the last rites.  He seemed to be everywhere that grim night.  W. T. Culverius, who was serving on the Maine as a naval cadet and who later rose to the rank of Rear Admiral had this to say about Chaplain Chidwick :  On that dread night in 1898 when the MAINE was destroyed, Chaplain Chidwick was everywhere present.  He had a word of cheer to the injured which soothed their pain.  Without thought of himself he helped the helpless and he ministered to the dying who will welcome him now in that Great Ship’s Company above, where shipmates never part.”   It should be remembered that Chaplain Chidwick and the other men engaged in the rescue of their stricken crewmates had no way of knowing that at any moment further blasts might send them all to eternity.  Father Chidwick was one of the last men to leave the Maine that night. 266 sailors died in the sinking of the Maine and 89 survived.

The funeral of the dead of the Maine was held in Havana on February 17, 1898 in the Christobal Colon cemetery in ground donated by the Spanish government.  Father Chidwick conducted the burial service.

Mainefuneral

(more…)

Published in: on January 26, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Hero of the Maine  
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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…)

Published in: on August 4, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Father Thomas Michael Conway: Last US Chaplain to Die in World War II  
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Franciscan Paratrooper

 

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 June 7, 2019 at 7:36 am  Comments Off on Franciscan Paratrooper  
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Hill 875

Charles J. Watters

Medal of Honor

On January 17, 1927  Charles Joseph Watters first saw the light of day.  Attending college at Seton Hall, he made the decision to become a priest and went on to Immaculate Conception Seminary.  Ordained on May 30, 1953, he served parishes in Jersey City, Rutherford, Paramus and Cranford, all in New Jersey.

 

While attending to his priestly duties, Father Watters became a pilot.  His longest solo flight was a trip to Argentina.  He earned a commercial pilot’s license and an instrument rating.  In 1962 he joined the Air Force National Guard in New Jersey.  A military tradition ran in his family with his uncle, John J. Doran, a bosun’s mate aboard the USS Marblehead, having been awarded a medal of honor for his courage at Cienfuegos, Cuba on May 11, 1898.

In August 1965 he transferred to the Army as a chaplain.  At the age of 38, a remarkably advanced age to be going through that rugged course in my opinion, Father Watters successfully completed Airborne training and joined the 173rd Airborne Brigade, the Sky Soldiers.  In June of 1966 Major Watters began a twelve month tour of duty in Vietnam with the 173rd.

Chaplain Watters quickly became a legend in the 173rd.  He constantly stayed with units in combat.  When a unit he was attached to rotated to the rear, he joined another unit in action.  He believed that his role was to be with the fighting units serving the men.  Saying mass,  joking with the men, giving them spiritual guidance, tending the wounded, Chaplain Watters seemed to be everywhere.   PFC Carlos Lozado remembered decades later that when he lacked the money to buy a crib for a new-born daughter Father Watters sought him out and gave him the money.  The word quickly spread in “The Herd”, as the 173rd was called, about the priest who didn’t mind risking his life with them, a reputation sealed when Father Watters made a combat jump with the troops during  Operation Junction City on February 22, 1967. (more…)

Published in: on May 30, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Hill 875  
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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…)

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.

kapaun

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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