Battlefield Chaplains

Catholic Priests in World War II

Donald F. Crosby

"If death must come—then far better for it to come when I'm shoulder to shoulder with these men who are fighting to preserve our country. . . . They are going to know that, in spite of being 'scared as hell' like the rest of them, a Catholic Priest is still going ahead and doing his work."

Father James P. Flynn could have been speaking for the rest of the chaplain corps, for he and his comrades shared fully in the lot of the common soldier: in Pacific island jungles, Europe's battered cities, North African deserts, and the oceans in between. And like the common soldier, chaplains endured the same combat perils, exposure to the elements, internal conflicts, boredom, and intense longings for peace and home.

“Crosby transports his readers directly to the front. Here is social history combining thumbnail sketches of key battles with powerful portraits of men of the cloth under fire.”

American Historical Review

“Gracefully, even entertainingly, written, this book gives worthwhile insights into both the work of dedicated chaplains and the daily life of servicemen under fire during World War II.”

Journal of American History
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Father Donald Crosby chronicles the little-known but crucial wartime role of Catholic chaplains and celebrates their compassion, courage, good humor, and humility. Their wartime efforts saved lives, provided comfort and hope, and renewed lost faith in a dark time. In the process, he shows, they also forged the beginnings of what would become the widespread ecumenical spirit of cooperation among Catholics, Protestants, and Jews that followed the war's end.

Although Crosby praises their heroic efforts, very much like those of Protestant and Jewish chaplains, he reveals that they were subject to the same human frailties as the men they comforted. They were also intensely patriotic and raised few objections to the racist and propagandistic depictions of the enemy, to the massed bombings of German and Japanese cities, or even to the use of the atomic bomb at war's end. (On the other hand, they zealously opposed many of their charges' sexual activities, including the use of prophylactics.)

Drawing upon many previously untapped church and government archival sources, as well as extensive interviews, Crosby's study vividly portrays faith under fire and grace at groundlevel, reminding us again that "there are no atheists in foxholes."

About the Author

Donald J. Crosby, S.J., is a priest at Saint Stephen's Catholic Church in San Francisco, where he has also served in the Jesuit Community of the University of San Francisco. His articles have appeared in Commonweal, Crisis, Catholic Digest, The Priest, and Church History.

Additional Titles in the Modern War Studies Series