Tuesday, June 10, 2014

An unnamed hero priest

Here's the story, via Matthew Archbold at the National Catholic Register; as told by the late William F. Buckley, via David Niven:

"David Niven told the engrossing story (I had never heard it) of a single episode in the chaotic flight from France after Dunkirk in 1940.

One motley assembly, ‘Royal Air Force ground personnel who were trapped, Red Cross workers, women, ambulance drivers and, finally, the embassy staff from Paris with their children — by the time they got to St. Nazaire at the mouth of the Loire, there were over three thousand of them and the British government sent an old liner called the Lancastria to come and take them away, with three destroyers to guard her. They were just pulling up the anchor when three dive bombers came.
The destroyers did what they could, but one bomb hit, went down the funnel and blew a huge hole in the side, and she quickly took on a terrible list. In the hold there were several hundred soldiers. Now there was no way they could ever get out because of the list, and she was sinking. And along came my own favorite Good Samaritan, a Roman Catholic priest, a young man in Royal Air Force uniform. He got a rope and lowered himself into the hold to give encouragement and help to those hundreds of men in their last fateful hour.’

‘Knowing he couldn’t get out?’ ‘Knowing he could never get out, nor could they. The ship sank and all in that hold died. The remainder were picked up by the destroyers and came back to England to the regiment I was in, and we had to look after them, and many of them told me that they were giving up even then, in the oil and struggle, and the one thing that kept them going was the sound of the soldiers in the hold singing hymns.’”

Read the rest at the NCR, link above.

Just something to consider when people heap opprobrium on Catholic priests. Not that we are exempt from criticism, or that we don't often deserve it, but...


umblepie said...

Thanks for this inspiring post.

ndspinelli said...

Great post, Padre. You comport yourself w/ honor and dignity @ all times.

x said...

By your logic, Father, the millions of acts of heroism by laymen during the war should be called to mind when any laymen is criticized (eg Ted Bundy, Stalin...)

That priest's heroism is non-transferable and certainly doesn't bathe clerics in reflected glory

Fr Martin Fox said...


I am unaware of there being widespread comments like, Catholic laity are all thieves.

Did I miss that?

x said...


I have no idea where you're going with that. I wasn't aware that Catholic priests have a reputation for being thieves.

My point, of course, is that criticism of all doctors is not mitigated by the heroic actions of one.

Your position is a benign clericalism. (If such a philosophy could ever be benign)

(Don't know why it signs me "X")

Fr Martin Fox said...


I was using an example, for reasons that perhaps will be clear in a moment.

Priests are routinely labeled molesters and other lovely terms.

If this is news to you, I'm genuinely happy.

I do not believe this is something ordinary Catholic laypeople have to endure, for which I'm glad.

So it is to rebut that sort of habitual slander that I offer this story. I don't get why that bothers you.

Jennifer said...

I just read a book by a German Catholic priest, called Mein dreiunddreissigstes Jahr. He was Fr. Gerhard Fittkau, from East Prussia, who was deported to Russia towards the end of the war. (I think copies are available in English)

Fr. Fittkau's maturity, self-sacrifice and devotion to Christ were very inspiring.

Few lay people would have behaved as nobly as he did.

Fr Martin Fox said...


My point wasn't that priests are more heroic. On the contrary, I suspect the opposite is true.

I simply wanted to offer a rebuttal to the usual ugliness.

Michael Haz said...

Great post, Father! What a remarkable and heroic man.

Mary Ann Kreitzer said...

To look at from the other direction, Stephen, a bad priest doesn't mean all priests are bad. But, let's face it, that is the point the media wants to make by tarring all priests as "pedophiles." It's interesting that they never do that with other categories of molesters, e.g., public school teachers although they have at least as serious a problem.

Thanks, Father, for the inspirational story. It got me thinking about the brave folks on the Titanic who gave up their life jackets and places on the lifeboats to save others. There are plenty of heroes out there if you have eyes to see them.

David Oatney said...

I'm rather tired of priests being dumped on, myself...