By Ron Leir
Everything is in readiness for the celebration of the annual Father John P. Washington Mass Feb. 3, at noon, at St. Stephen’s Church to mark the 70th anniversary of the day the Four Chaplains gave their life vests to others when the torpedoed Dorchester sank in the North Atlantic in World War II.
This year’s observance will feature the dedication of a bronze monument to Rev. Washington, the parish’s former curate and one of four clergymen who made the ultimate sacrifice on Feb. 3, 1943. His comrades on that illfated voyage were the Rev. George L. Fox, a Methodist; Rabbi Alexander D. Goode; and the Rev. Clark V. Poling of the Reformed Church of America.
The Rev. Joseph Mancini, pastor of St. Stephen’s Parish, said the 11-feet-10 inchestall, 1,562-pound monument, designed by Canadian sculptor Timothy P. Schmalz, is expected to arrive at the church by Jan. 31.
A crane will lift the monument into its resting place, a 4-foot tall bluestone pedestal with stucco exterior, already positioned on the front lawn of the church, at Washington and Kearny Aves., Mancini said. Creative Pavers of Montvale built the pedestal.
The front of the memorial depicts the Four Chaplains praying in the stern of the Dorchester and the back shows an angel holding the four life jackets; enclosed in the angel’s spreading wings is an image of the Dorchester sinking.
In commissioning the project, St. Stephen’s Parish figured it would need to raise $96,000 for the ambitious undertaking.
Asked if it had reached that lofty goal, Mancini said: “We’re not quite there yet. We’re about $10,000 short. But I think that once people see [the monument], they’ll want to give.”
So far, of the 125 donations received, 114 have come from individuals and families; seven from veterans’ organizations; and four from civic and fraternal associations, in amounts ranging from $10 to $1,000, according to Mancini. “The people have really come through,” Mancini said.
“The monument embodies the generosity of spirit of Kearny and the people of St. Stephen’s.”
About 1,100 families comprise the Catholic parish which celebrated its centennial anniversary in 2004.
Mancini said the Feb. 3 event will get underway at around 11:10 or 11:15 a.m. with private ceremonies open only to veterans’ groups in Hedges (Lower Church) Hall inside the church.
Gene Swarbrick, who served as Father Washington’s altar boy at St. Stephen’s, will be flying in from his Florida home to sing in his former pastor’s memory. Then, an adult ensemble from West Hudson Arts & Theater (W.H.A.T.) will perform; and, finally, the Kearny High School Band will play “The Light Eternal,” dedicated to the Four Chaplains.
At that point, Mancini said, “we’ll start the public session with a presentation of colors by the Kearny Police Department Honor Guard, followed by a veterans’ processional into the sanctuary, the singing of the National Anthem, and then the Mass.”
The Rev. Timothy Broglio, Archbishop of the Military Services, of Washington, D.C., will be the main celebrant and he will deliver the homily.
Members of the St. Columcille United Pipe Band of Kearny will perform a post- Communion meditation, “Amazing Grace,” to conclude the Mass and will then lead everyone outside for the monument dedication at the southeast corner of the church lawn.
After the pastor speaks and reads a short prayer, a bugler will play taps and a wreathe will be placed at the base of the monument.
During the ceremony, Kearny Police will be detouring traffic off Kearny Ave. between Washington and Laurel Aves. and the Kearny Fire Department will suspend a giant American flag between two ladder trucks on Kearny Ave.
Mancini said the parish had hoped to invite veteran Ben Epstein, believed to be the last survivor of the attack on the Dorchester, but he died recently in Long Island, N.Y.
The bronze monument was cast at the artist’s studio in Thailand and transported by ship to the Port of Los Angeles. From there, it’s to be shipped by rail to Detroit where it will be loaded on a flatbed trailer for delivery to Kearny this week, Mancini said.
Parishioner Nancy Waller, who worked with the pastor in pushing for the project, said: “Father has been stalwart about preserving the memory of the Four Chaplains and Father Washington so it’s wonderful and exciting to see the process now finally come to an end.”