Heroes of the cloth: Marveling at the stuff our priests are made of

Hector Rondon | AP Photo

Catholic priests are human and fallible, like everyone. But sometimes they’re outright heroes.

Several years ago, at her now defunct blog the Crescat, Aleteia’s resident advice columnist Katrina Fernandez found this photo here and marveled at “the stuff our priests are made of!”

4 June 1962. Navy chaplain Luis Padillo was giving last rites to dying soldiers as sniper fire surrounded him. A wounded soldier pulled himself up by clinging to the priest’s cassock, as bullets chewed up the concrete around them. Hector Rondón Lovera, who had to lie flat to avoid getting shot, later said that he was unsure how he managed to take this picture. [See all pictures he took that day]. Norman Rockwell eerily used this photograph as a template for his Southern Justice painting, “Murder in Mississippi.”

Hector Rondon | AP Photo

I myself am struck by the sense of absolute calm in that image of Fr. Padillo. There is something startlingly grounded there. Unflappable. Daring, even.

United States Navy - Naval Historical Center Online Library

The image brought to mind the “Grunt Padre,” aka Servant of God Vincent Capodanno, who was killed in Vietnam:

Father Capodanno went among the wounded and dying, giving last rites and taking care of his beloved Marines. Always watching out for them, as they watched out for him. Wounded in the face and suffering a severe shrapnel wound that nearly severed his hand, during the epic battle of Dong Son in September 1967, Father Vince moved to help a wounded Marine only yards from an enemy machine gun. Father Capodanno died from a machine gun blast [while] taking care of this young Marine. When his body was recovered, he had 27 bullet wounds.

A priest with weary eyes.

Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.