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Franciscan, only priest killed in D-Day invasion, recalled for heroism
Catholic News Service photo
Franciscan Father Ignatius Maternowski is pictured in this vintage World War II-era photo. Father Maternowski was the only Catholic chaplain to die during the D-Day invasion June 6, 1944, in Normandy, France.
Catholic News Service photo
Franciscan Father Ignatius Maternowski is pictured in this vintage World War II-era photo. Father Maternowski was the only Catholic chaplain to die during the D-Day invasion June 6, 1944, in Normandy, France.

GUETTEVILLE, France — Franciscan Father Ignatius Maternowski was remembered for his bravery and commitment to serving soldiers in the battlefield during a ceremony in Normandy marking the 70th anniversary of the Allied-led D-Day invasion, a major turning point in World War II.

Father Maternowski, 32, a Conventual Franciscan, was the only Catholic chaplain killed during the assault in northern France that began June 6, 1944.

Conventual Franciscan Father James McCurry, minister provincial of the order's Our Lady of Angels province, recalled during a commemorative ceremony June 4 that the young priest was motivated by charity, love for freedom and justice and an adherence to ideals that bound Americans and French citizens alike.

Father Maternowski, who held the rank of Army captain, was killed by a German sniper after volunteering to parachute into France with members of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division. He landed safely and immediately began searching for a building that could serve as a field hospital, Father McCurry recalled.

As he started his search, Father Maternowski removed his helmet and displayed a chaplain insignia and Red Cross armband. Father McCurry said he crossed enemy lines to seek out a German counterpart with the hope of establishing a joint hospital where the wounded of both armies could be treated with dignity. Father Maternowski was shot in the back while walking back to his regiment, he said.

Father Maternowski's body remained on the ground for three days before Allied forces were able to advance into the area near Guetteville. He was buried near Utah Beach one of the key invasion points in Normandy. In 1948, his remains were returned to the U.S. and buried at the Franciscans' Mater Dolorosa Cemetery in South Hadley, Mass.

Father McCurry described his fellow Franciscan as exemplifying "goodness and self-sacrifice above the call of duty."

"His quiet heroism is the stuff of legend," Father McCurry said.

At a ceremony June 6 attended by world leaders, Auxiliary Bishop F. Richard Spencer of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services delivered the invocation, praying for a peaceful and prosperous world.

"Peace comes from you, it all belongs to you," he prayed invoking God. "Peace exists for your glory. History is your story. Our task here today is not to fix the blame for the past, but to fix the course for the future.

"Give to our government and military leaders the wisdom to lead us with humility, the courage to lead us with integrity, the compassion to lead us with generosity," he said.

He prayed that people everywhere would continue to be united by a commitment to freedom and justice for all and "to seek the common good of all."

Bishop Spencer also planned to celebrate Mass June 7 at the American cemetery at Omaha Beach on the Normandy shore.

The ceremony was attended by President Barack Obama, French President Francois Hollande and a slew of other leaders from both countries.

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