Chaplain Maternowski Heroism Marked During 75th Anniversary D-Day Remembrances
By Dr. John R. Dabrowski, COL, USA (Ret)
On Saturday, June 8, 2019 in the small hamlet of Guetteville (Picauville), France, a ceremony was held honoring a Franciscan priest, Fr. Ignatious Maternowski, Captain, US Army Chaplain Corps, who gave his life during the early hours of Operation OVERLORD, the Allied invasion of France on June 6, 1944. Fr. Maternowski holds the distinction of being the only US military chaplain killed on D-Day. Thus, he is so honored not only by the US but by the local French populace.
I was very honored to represent Fr. Robert Berger, the Founder of the WWII Chaplains Memorial Foundation and himself a retired US Army Colonel, US Army Chaplain Corps for the Maternowski ceremony. Joining me was my wife Mary, and representing the Franciscan Order was Fr. Martin Kobos and Mr. Joseph Hamilton, Director of the Companions of St. Anthony, as well as Mr. Hamilton’s immediate family. Also joining us was Kelly Carrigg, LTC, USA (Ret), of the US Embassy in Paris, who acted as a chaperon/interpreter for our group. Ms. Carrigg is no stranger to the Fr. Maternowski story as she has in the past participated in ceremonies honoring the chaplain and had previously taught French at Fr. Maternowski’s alma mater in upstate New York. Needless to say, she was a wonderful asset to have with us.
The ceremony was approximately 30 minutes in length and speakers included myself, Fr. Kobos, LTC Koyn, chaplain for the 82nd Airborne Division, and Mr. Daniel Briard, a French representative from the town of Picauville. Speakers recounted Fr. Maternowski’s life and his sacrifice. The speeches were translated into French by Ms. Carrigg for the benefit of the French audience. After the speeches, wreaths were placed at the Maternowski memorial from the Franciscans and from VFW Post 605 in Europe. US troops from the 82nd Airborne Division as well as the 90th Sustainment Brigade, US Army Reserve, were also in attendance. A video of the entire ceremony should be accessible via the WWII Chaplains Memorial Foundation website.
Immediately after the ceremony, our group made our way to the small Chapel in Cauquigny, which was about 2 kilometers from the Maternowski memorial site. At the chapel, Fr. Kobos celebrated Mass in honor of Chaplain Maternowski. It was attended by both civilian and military personnel, as well as US, French, and British nationals. After Mass, a British national who happens to live in the town told Fr. Kobos that to his knowledge this was the first Mass ever conducted in the English language at this particular chapel in over 800 years. Thus, we too made some history!
Aside from the official ceremonies that we attended during our week-long stay in Normandy, we had the honor and pleasure of meeting Mssr. Louis Marion and his family who still live in the village of Picauville. Mssr. Marion, 92, was probably the last person to see Fr. Maternowski alive before he was killed by a German sniper. Mssr. Marion was on 17 at the time, but recounted very vividly to us, through our interpreter, of the events leading up to Fr. Maternowski’s death. The Marion family recounted their lives during the German occupation of the area. Madame Marion’s home had been taken over by the Germans during the occupation, but she stated that they conducted themselves in a “correct” manner, paying for items that they used, etc.
While Fr. Maternowski is not buried in Normandy, but instead in South Hadley, Massachusetts, I felt that his spirit was with us on June 8. A beautiful laser-etched memorial erected in 2012, depicts Fr. Maternowski administering the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick to a dying paratrooper. This image is depicted on an information card which was given out to those in attendance. On the back of the card is a brief biography of Fr. Maternowski and tells of his sacrifice.
In collaboration with the WWII Chaplains Memorial Foundation, the Franciscan Friars Conventual of Our Lady of the Angels Province have begun promoting Fr. Maternowski’s cause for canonization. I ask that you support this effort and pray that this comes to fruition.