As the world celebrated the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landing on the coast of normandy, France, Fr. James McCurry, OFM Conv., the Minister Provincial of the Our Lady of the Angels Province, spoke at a ceremony in the hamlet of Guetteville commemorating the death of Franciscan Friar Father Ignatius Maternowski, OFM Conv. on the morning of June 6, 1944. Fr. Ignatius was the only Catholic chaplain to die in the D-Day invasion.
Enlisting in the Army in July of 1942, Fr. Ignatius volunteered for the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division. Attaining the rank of Captain, Fr. Ignatius trained in England and Ireland with his men for the battles that would reclaim the freedom of Europe. Landing with his men in the early morning hours of June 6, 1944, Fr. Ignatius immediately searched for an adequate building to serve as a field hospital for the wounded. Removing his helmet and wearing his chaplain insignia and Red Cross armband, Fr. Ignatius crossed enemy lines to seek the cooperation of his German counterpart in establishing a joint hospital. Fr. Ignatius was shot in the back by sniper fire on his walk back to his Regiment.
Fr. Ignatius’ body lay in the roadway for three days as the German commander would not allow him to be removed. On June 9, when the 90th Infantry Division claimed the area, Fr. Ignatius’ body was recovered and buried near Utah Beach. In 1948, his remains were returned to the United States and interred at the Franciscan Friars’ Mater Dolorosa Cemetery in South Hadley, Massachusetts.
In his remarks in Guetteville, Fr. McCurry recalled that “When he landed on French soil in the village of Guetteville on the 6th of June (D-Day), Fr. Ignatius was not wearing his Franciscan robe, he was garbed in the uniform of a United States Army Captain. Fr. Ignatius had one thing in common with his Franciscan brothers from the 13th century, he was motivated by Charity, Love for freedom, and Love for justice.”
Though Fr. Ignatius Maternowski was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart by the United States Government, Fr. McCurry hopes that “Given the brave circumstances of his heroic death, it would be wonderful if the US Government could grant him a Distinguished Service Medal.” †
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