BY TONI CASHNELLI and SR. DARIA MITCHELL, OSF
They saw it all – and lived to tell about it.
World War II ended on Sept. 2, 1945, when Japan officially surrendered to the Allies aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Alongside hundreds of thousands of American soldiers who wept with joy and relief were the friar chaplains who stood with and supported them from England to Germany, from North Africa to New Guinea.
Where the troops went, Franciscans followed, sometimes praying on the sidelines, often standing directly in the line of fire. When war was declared, 14 friars of St. John the Baptist Province volunteered to serve our soldiers and their country. When it ended, all 14 returned and were invited to tell their stories in a Special Number of the Provincial Chronicle produced by J. Forest McGee in June of 1947.
They are gone – the last of the chaplains died in 1996 – but their voices still resonate in the stories they wrote for the Chronicle. To mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the deadliest conflict in human history, we share with you their names, their faces, and some of their memories.
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Gerald was Chaplain of the 389th Bomb Group of Gen. James Doolittle’s Eighth Army Air Force as they prepared for oil field and refinery raids on Romania in 1943. “The success of this raid, its effectiveness in lowering enemy morale, its destruction of a much-needed supply of oil products that the enemy no doubt needed badly to wage war cannot be measured easily,” Gerald wrote. “That it lessened the length of the war and was a tactical success cannot be doubted.”
Thomas served with soldiers of the 509th Bomb Wing while they trained to drop the Atomic Bomb. “All in all it was an educational experience which I hope will always remain in the experimental stage. If it comes to a time when nations become serious about dropping atomic bombs, and not too choosy where they land, I think I would like to take refuge in a little spot which is situated near the Lukachukai mountains in Arizona.”
Angelico went to sea with the 7th AAA Bn. attached to the 77th Infantry Division. As they sailed to Guam, “Afternoons and evenings I’d slip my habit over my denims and stand by a rail studying the waves, and the fellows came, stood by and talked and got absolution. The word was passed around that the new chaplain was a ‘mission Padre’ – which shows how much our Franciscan garb can do.”
William crossed Italy with the 88th Combat Infantry Division. “In actual combat the Chaplain lived and traveled with the battalion medics, following the rear of the battalion. The casualties were picked up by the litter bearers and brought to the battalion aid station, where medical aid and spiritual aid were administered. The Catholic Chaplain was expected to give aid to the men of all creeds, including Protestant and Jew, with whom he usually recited the act of contrition or some similar prayer.”
Herman spend seven months in England and France with the 1st Armored Division. “One day, at the battalion aid-station, a German 88 shell came crashing through the ceiling while the medics were working on a casualty. The shell was supposed to explode and belch its shrapnel; it was made that way; but God didn’t let this one explode – it was a dud. It sort of takes the words out of your mouth and the thoughts right from your mind. One just lies there on his belly and gazes at it, silently. Who’s going to break the silence? A second lieutenant (a Medic) broke it – ‘Let’s get the h--- out of here. You know, a guy could get hurt here.’”
Gerard was attached to Marine Air Group 14 on Okinawa after the initial landings. “Overshadowing almost everything else on Okinawa were the times that danger came rather close. On one occasion one of our planes was caught in a cross-wind while landing and it crashed and burned. The pilot was a Catholic boy, and after running over a mile through the fields to get to the air strip (the C.O. would not give a Jeep to the Chaplain), I gave him the last Sacraments….The next one down was likewise caught in the cross-wind and carried his plane off the course of the runway in the direction where I was waiting. I never ran so fast in all my life trying to get away from the course of that plane.”
Senan ministered to sick and wounded soldiers at Billings General Hospital at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Ind., and at hospitals in Braintree and Kidderminster, England. (No story was provided.)
One of Jerome’s assignments in the South Pacific was on an island air base off the coast of New Guinea. “While at Emirau I had one of the saddest experiences which is connected with what the men called ‘Dear John Letters.’ Few people back home will ever realize how deeply a ‘Dear John’ letter affects a man thousands of miles from home. I have seen men go as far as to even attempt suicide just because of a ‘Dear John’ letter. I was hauled out of bed about 5 o’clock one morning to attend a man, father of three children, incidentally, who had the previous night received a ‘Dear John’ letter from his wife.”
In May of 1943, Barnabas accompanied the 97th Infantry Division overseas to a training ground outside Birmingham, England. “Finally our training was over, and we were awaiting the day when we would be called to do our part towards V-Day and Victory. It came sooner than we expected, for on D + 2, June 1943, we crossed the English Channel amid all the fury that hell and Hitler could shower upon us and landed on the notorious Omaha Beach on the shores of Normandy. To forget it is wiser than to recall it.”
With the 323rd Bomb Group in England and the 362nd Fighter Group in France, Guy held “briefing services”, administering general absolution and Holy Communion before each mission. Guy recalled: “It was one of these Fighter Pilots who wrote when he finished his tour of duty and returned to the States: ‘I was glad that I was with the 362nd, a group that had a Catholic chaplain. Actually I felt that I had a decided advantage over other pilots who weren’t Catholics, for as a rule, I was fortunate enough to have received Christ in Holy Communion before each mission. Certainly I couldn’t have had a better co-pilot along with me, to give me additional confidence and to guide me in flight.’”
At Camp Shanks in Orangeburg, N.Y., Elvan was chaplain at the prisoner of war camp where Germans were processed before they were returned to Europe. “Among the German POWs, some 51 German priests went through while I was in charge of the prison area. Have nothing but the highest praise for them, as these priests were all, with but two exceptions, just plain German GIs and had gone through four to six years of rough living and hardships that bordered close to a living martyrdom. The German non-coms were predominantly Nazi, and when they discovered a Catholic priest as a soldier in their company, they really made life miserable for him.”
Aloys was with Gen. Terry Allen’s 104th Timberwolf Division as they slogged through Germany in the final months of the war. “We skirted the Harz mountains and took Nordhausen, home of the V-1 and V-2 factory, and also home of the unforgettable Nordhausen concentration camp, topped in sadism only by Buchenwald (which our Corps also freed) and by Dachau. God have mercy if possible on the fiends who nightmared such brutalities! Even at this late date I feel nauseated at the remembrance of the details, which I shall spare you.”
One of Raphael’s roles was as chaplain to German POWs at Camp Patrick Henry, Va. “Much reserved at first and wondering how their enemies would treat them, they soon realized that a humane treatment was theirs in this country, and they began to attend services and to receive the sacraments. …I still get letters from a prisoner who was backed against the wall three times in Germany and ordered to deny his faith or be shot, before he was placed in a concentration camp. ‘Shoot,’ he said, ‘I’ll not give up my Catholic faith.’”
In 1943 while the Sixth Armored Field Artillery Group fought its way through Italy, Seraph moved between battalions to administer Sacraments. “Occasionally our gun batteries and the immediate approaches to them were under observation of the enemy during the day, so that it was necessary for me to walk miles [at night] through olive groves, muddy ditches and ravines to reach the men….It was not unusual for me to come upon a gun crew having a poker game in their hole in the ground. As soon as I would mention the purpose of my visit, one or two would lay down their cards, come off to the side, make their confession, receive Holy Communion and ten minutes later the game would continue as usual. I wondered if God minded so much.”
‘I was no hero’
A number of friar chaplains in World War II were decorated for their courage and dedication. Maj. Gerald Beck brought home seven battle stars, an Air Combat medal and seven other ribbons and citations. Maj. Barnabas McAlarney received a Purple Heart; he didn’t explain how he got it.
Maj. Aloys Schweitzer, Maj. William Faber and Capt. Herman Felhoelter were all awarded the Bronze Star, a medal presented for “heroic achievement, heroic service, meritorious achievement or meritorious service in a combat zone”. Herman did not live to receive his most prestigious medal, a Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest military honor in the Army. It was given for “extraordinary heroism” after he was killed in Korea in 1950 while ministering to wounded soldiers.
“I was no hero,” wrote Capt. Seraph Zeitz, who landed in southern France with the troops on D-Day. “More real courage goes into living well the humdrum routine of everyday life than in charging down the valley of death.”
– Toni Cashnelli
BY FR. PAGE POLK, OFM
If anyone had told me a year ago that I would be living in New York City at the Southern tip of Manhattan (in the SoHo district), I would have laughed and shaken my head… No way!
Since Feb. 1, 2015, I have been living in New York City at the Southern tip of Manhattan (in the SoHo district). Some days I still shake my head. Who, me? It is a fact, nonetheless.
The Spirit of God moves in mysterious ways, Last October, via a discernment process, Bill Beaudin of Holy Name Province, Richard McManus of St. Barbara Province and I were selected to provide a unique ministry and service to the OFMs of the United States.
The name of our team is Franciscan Interprovincial Team (FIT). We were asked by the seven Ministers Provincial to live and work together to help move forward a process entitled: Brothers for the Twenty-First Century: A Process for the Revitalization and Restructuring of Franciscan Life in the United States, 2014-2017.
How can the friars re-kindle the fire and energy of being a missionary order? How, with the declining number of friars, can the friars live and work together to serve the Church in America? How will the senior friars be cared for with appreciation, love, and dignity? How might the friars be better stewards of time, talent, and treasure?
PHOTO BY CHRIS FORD
A year ago, I would never have dreamed of living in New York City. I am learning to say, “Hello , New York”!
Where might each of us be challenged to say in the future: Hello, ______?
Time will fill in the blank.
To what place might you be saying “Hello” in the future?
Do not be afraid.
It has been a very exciting last few days! On Aug. 15, Carlo, Jonathon, Tom and John.PHOTO BY FRANK JASPER, OFMCarlo, Jonathon, John, and Tom joined eight other men and were welcomed as novices. Please keep these brothers in prayer. Immediately following their reception, from Aug. 16-19 the seven Provincial Councils of the U.S. Provinces met in Techny, Ill., and chose four models for possible restructuring that will be discussed during the coming year. On Aug. 19-20, the Provincials, Secretaries for Formation and Studies and novitiate team met to discuss our novitiate program. On Sunday, Aug. 23, we missioned Br. Tim Lamb to his new ministry in Africa. This past week, the SJB Council met at Clifty Falls State Park in Madison, Ind., for our annual long-range planning session. It is a feast of riches! We will be unpacking all of this with you in the coming weeks through the News Notes, Council Minutes, and the annual letter from Clifty Falls. Stay tuned!
— Fr. Jeff Scheeler, OFM
BY TOM WASHBURN, OFM
BURLINGTON, WIS. - About 40 friars gathered at the Interprovincial Novitiate here on the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin to celebrate the reception into the novitiate of 13 men from six ESC Provinces.
The morning prayer service included readings, recitation of the psalms, a reflection by Novice Master Ralph Parthie, OFM (SH) and the washing of the feet of the new novices by the Novitiate Team to symbolize the life of service these young men are embarking upon as Franciscan religious.
Received as novices were:
• Br. Salvador Baca, OFM - Immaculate Conception Province
• Br. John Boissy, OFM - St. John the Baptist Province
• Br. Jonathon Douglas, OFM - St. John the Baptist Province
• Br. Thomas Murphy, OFM - St. John the Baptist Province
• Br. Carlo Shivel, OFM - St. John the Baptist Province
• Br. Eufemio Dimas Robaina, OFM - Holy Name Province
• Br. Angel Vazquez, OFM - Holy Name Province
• Br. Aaron Richardson, OFM - Holy Name Province
• Br. Hadijanto Djojo, OFM - St. Barbara Province
• Br. Shant Ohanees Khokasian, OFM - St. Barbara Province
• Br. Tony Pensiero, OFM - St. Barbara Province
• Br. Donald McGeragle, OFM - Christ the King Province
Also received today was Br. Tom Robinson, OFM, of the Custody of the Immaculate Conception (England). He was received in the novitiate in Ennis in Ireland and will join the fraternity in Burlington as soon as possible.
The Novice Team was also officially commissioned by the Provincial Ministers and their representatives present. The current team includes: Novice Master Br. Ralph Parthie, OFM (SH), Guardian Br. Joachim Studwell, OFM (ABVM), Br. Dennis Schafer, OFM (SH), and Br. Jeff McNab, OFM (SB).
Over 75 Brothers attended the Right, Philip Wilhelm was among the attendees.Above, Kenn Beetz and General Minister Michael Perry; right, Brian Maloney with Bill Herbst of HN Province.first ESC Convocation of Lay Franciscan Friars from Aug. 10-14 at St. Francis Retreat Center in San Juan Bautista, Calif. Participants included brothers from all seven U.S. Provinces as well as Australia, Korea and Singapore. Presenters included Bill Short, OFM, and Marist Bro. Sean Sammon, FMS. General Minister Michael Perry, OFM, and our Definitor Caoimhin Ó Laoide, OFM, also took an active role at the Convocation. The gathering was a celebration of the vocation of the Franciscan Lay Friar. Speakers talked about the past and present, and a member of the FIT committee talked about our future together. The real focus, however, was the dialogue and sharing with each other that took place in small groups and the assembly at-large.
(Members of the province who participated were: Brian Maloney, Juniper Crouch, Kenneth Beetz, Philip Wilhelm, Phillips Robinette and Vincent Delorenzo.)
–Brian Maloney, OFM
BY TONI CASHNELLI
Francis Kasenga and Anthony Salangeta at Franciscan Media. PHOTO BY TONI CASHNELLIThey came here to learn. But as often happens, the students have become the teachers.
Last month two Conventual friars from Zambia arrived in Cincinnati to glean ideas from Franciscan Media. When they leave in September, these first-time visitors to America will take away more than print and electronic know-how. They will remember the people who taught them and the friars who made them feel welcome.
Back home, Fr. Kapambwe Anthony Salangeta and Fr. Francis Kasenga have a bright future. “These two brothers have been given responsibility for editorial and publishing responsibilities at Mission Press [run by the Conventuals] in Ndola, Zambia,” according to a letter of introduction from Jim Kent, Minister Provincial of the Province of Our Lady of Consolation at Mt. St. Francis, Ind. The problem? “They were thrust into these positions without much preparation, and they seek some help or direction.”
Anthony and Francis have found both at Franciscan Media by shadowing team members through the electronic universe and the process of publishing. In the process, each has emerged as an effective ambassador for a country that is a question mark to most Americans.
“Diverse” doesn’t begin to describe their homeland. An independent republic since 1964 (and formerly known as Northern Rhodesia), Zambia is home to 73 tribes speaking almost that many languages. Since the official language is English, Franciscan Media was a logical choice for their observation internship.
First impressions of America? “The country itself is big, beautiful and the people are good, very hospitable,” says Francis, although he is troubled by “the number of shootings” reported on the news. “Sometimes Americans take the freedom they have and abuse it.”
Asked to describe Zambia, he says, “It is a beautiful country with hospitable people. There are a very good number of Catholics at Sunday worship.” In Africa, says Anthony, “People want to take long Masses. They enjoy singing the songs.” At American Mass, Francis says tactfully, “The singing is solemn and different than ours.” What they have noticed about the friars is “their closeness,” says Anthony. “There is a sense of belonging. They know each friar.”
The weeks here have been productive. At Franciscan Media, “They work as a team and share ideas and implement ideas, whether they come from a friar or a lay person,” says Anthony. “They have given us the opportunity to explore.” When they leave, Francis says, “Whatever we have learned here we will try to implement and reach out to the masses and go with technology.”
They’re issuing an open invitation. If you ever get to Zambia, “You have us to visit now,” says Francis. “You can see the country at large.”
(A video about Zambia and the work of the Conventual Franciscans is posted at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQQvTlUXj-k)
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