On a remarkable journey, which took place June 5-9, 2019, Fr. Martin Kobos, OFM Conv., co-founder of the Companions of St. Anthony, and Mr. Joseph Hamilton, Director of Mission Advancement for the Our Lady of Angels Province and Director of the Companions of St. Anthony, represented the Franciscan Friars Conventual at the 75th Anniversary D-Day commemoration ceremonies in Normandy, France.
As we shared in our spring issue, Fr. Martin and Joe participated in numerous events commemorating Friar Ignatius Maternowski, a Conventual Franciscan who was the only military chaplain to die on D-Day and who is memorialized with a monument in the village where he was killed. As promised to our faithful Companions, Fr. Martin celebrated a commemoration Mass for the intentions of our Companions of St. Anthony as well as for Fr. Ignatius and the Fallen Heroes of D-Day.
On June 6, 2019, Fr. Martin and Joe attended the 75th Anniversary D-Day commemoration at Normandy American Cemetery, Colleville-Sur-Mer, France. The event featured speeches by President Donald Trump of the United States and President Emmanuel Macron of France and numerous tri-color flyovers. In the course of the day, Fr. Martin expressed his gratitude to the nearly 10,000 soldiers buried in the cemetery, living veterans of the D-Day invasion, as well as blessing numerous active duty soldiers. The day was a time of solemn remembrance of the heroism of our soldiers and the bonds of friendship that forever link the countries of the United States of America and France.
On June 7, 2019, in Amfreville, France, Fr. Martin represented the Province at the ceremony for Charles DeGlopper, a native of Grand Island, NY whose personal sacrifice earned him a posthumous Medal of Honor. Later, Fr. Martin and Joe were invited back to the home of Louis Marion, the only surviving witness of Fr. Ignatius Maternowski from the village of Gueutteville where Fr. Ignatius died. There, Mr. Marion participated in a video conversation, recounting his memories of D-Day and Fr. Ignatius. He and Anne-Marie, his wife of 68 years, were most hospitable hosts. Mr. Marion’s memories of the occupation and liberation of his village have become valuable additions to the story of Fr. Maternowski.
On June 8, 2019 Fr. Martin and Joe attended the ceremony commemorating Fr. Ignatius Maternowski at the site of his monument in Gueutteville. Presented by the U.S.-Normandy Memory and Gratitude Association, the event featured numerous speeches including Fr.Martin’s on behalf of the Franciscan Friars Conventual. Ms.Kelly M. Carrigg, Lieutenant Colonel, US Army, retired, former teacher at St. Francis High School in Athol Springs, NY, and currently on staff at the US Embassy in Paris, coordinated Fr. Martin’s itinerary and translated at the ceremony. At the conclusion of his speech, Fr. Martin presented Mr. Daniel Briard and Mr. Eric Labourdette of the Association gifts of a flag flown over the US Capitol with its official citation from the House of Representatives and a 508th PIR flag signed by Rock Merritt, the fellow Normandy veteran who served with Fr. Ignatius. Many wreaths were placed at Fr. Ignatius’ memorial including one from the Companions of St. Anthony. The memorial was even featured in the Picauville newspaper. The Friars thank all of their Companions who sent prayer intentions and offerings for this special commemoration of their own loved ones who were among the heros who also served in World War II.
Immediately following the ceremony in Gueutteville, Fr. Martin was asked to bless a shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary which is located in a small storage room attached to the site of the former German infirmary during the occupation. It was in this storage room that the Guetteville villagers huddled for safety during the D-Day invasion.
Erected in 1948, the shrine honors Our Lady’s protection of the village during this time. The villagers showed Fr. Martin the bullet holes that pierced the walls of the building and remain in place to this day. They also shared the faith of their loved ones who trusted in the grace of God to strengthen and protect them during the darkest hours of the war. Accompanying Fr. Martin on this holy task were two active duty US Army chaplains, Major Daniel King and Lieutenant Colonel Brian Koyn.
Later that morning, about a mile away from Fr. Ignatius’ memorial site, Fr. Martin presided over Mass at Eglise Saint-Ferreolde Cauquigny, a small church which was badly damaged during the fighting. The Commemoration Mass, said in memory of Fr. Ignatius Maternowski, OFM Conv., the Companions of St. Anthony, and all of the Fallen Heroes of D-Day, was preceded by a brief service and welcome by Fr. Marie-Bernard Seigneur, pastor of Our Lady of Peace parish, Sainte Mere Eglise.
Speaking at Fr. Ignatius’ ceremony as well as providing a reading at Mass was Dr. John Dabrowski, a retired US Army historian and a representative for the WWII Chaplains Memorial Foundation. At the conclusion of Mass, a villager announced that this was, as far as he knew, the first Mass in English in the church’s 800-year history.
Upon returning to the United States, Fr. Martin and Joe have continued corresponding with the many friends and colleagues they encountered in Normandy, and plans are underway for commemorations in June 2020. Please continue to pray for Fr. Maternowski, all the heroes of D-Day, and all those who faithfully serve our country. They truly are the Greatest Generation. †
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