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.

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Fr. Capodanno’s story puts me in mind of another possible saint, Kansas-born Chaplain Father Emil Kapaun:

Feverishly working beyond the American lines in “no-man’s land,” he actually stopped an execution and negotiated with the enemy for the safety of wounded Americans. No one knows how many young soldiers he carried to safety on his back. Going back again and again he was finally taken prisoner as he tried to rescue another wounded soldier.

There is a great story about Kapaun, that while he was assisting a wounded man an enemy soldier approached and raised his rifle. Kapaun, apparently in no mood for it, hauled off and decked the soldier, before being taken prisoner.

Kapaun puts me in mind of:

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Army Chaplain Fr. Tim Vakoc, who died of injuries sustained in Iraq.

Vakoc was injured on May 29, 2004 – the twelfth anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood – while returning from saying Mass for soldiers in the field in Iraq when his Humvee struck a roadside bomb (IED). He sustained a severe brain injury … On June 1, 2005, a flag – signed by Vakoc and his unit – was given to him. His first message to the visitors who presented the flag was “TIM 4F” (the military code for unfit for duty) and then “OK.”

And Fr. Vakoc’s story called to memory the incredible Fr. Aloysius Schmitt, Navy Chaplain, who had finished celebrating Mass on the USS Oklahoma just moments before the attack on Pearl Harbor, and died while helping other sailors get to safety.

Photo Courtesy of Loras College

Father Schmitt’s corroded chalice and water-stained Latin prayer book were found in the wreckage. The book was still marked with a page ribbon for prayers that morning, turned to the Eighth Psalm.

O Lord, our Lord,
how awesome is your name through all the earth!
I will sing of your majesty above the heavens.

Fr. Schmitt was the first Catholic priest killed while in service with U.S. military forces. The USS Schmitt, a Buckley-class destroyer escort in the US Navy, was named for him.

His story never fails to move me, and it very naturally reminds me of:

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