St. Stephen’s marks ‘Four Chaplains’ 80th anniversary

Photo by Barbara B. Goldberg

Unfathomably, it’s been 80 years since the immortal Four Chaplains lost their lives. And as is the case annually, St. Stephen’s Church, Kearny, paused to remember the four, including the Rev. John Washington, who once served the parish.

During the early morning hours of Feb. 3, 1943, the four chaplains, each of different religions serving in World War II, sacrificed themselves to save soldiers onboard the torpedoed USAT Dorchester when they gave their lifejackets to others who needed them.

The 80th anniversary of the deaths of Lt. Alexander D. Goode, a rabbi; Lt. George L. Fox, a Methodist minister; Lt. Clark V. Poling, a Dutch Reformed minister; and Lt. Washington — was marked with a tribute Mass that celebrated their heroism as the ultimate sign of faith, and an example for everyone to follow.

 “Most of us will never die a hero’s death… But all of us are called by the idea of faith to, day in and day out, give of ourselves,” Auxiliary Bishop Gregory J. Studerus, who presided over the Feb. 5 Mass before a church filled with military veterans, relatives of those killed on the Dorchester, and other dignitaries such as former Gov. James E. McGreevey, Mayor Alberto G. Santos and others, said. “Day in and day out, we look for ways of being generous, ways of being kind, ways of reaching out and touching the heart of those who are sad and mourning, reaching out and touching those who are oppressed. And sometimes (we go) as far as the ones we honor today, giving our lives because of faith.”

The Mass started with a presentation of colors featuring veterans’ organizations, Boy Scouts and the Knights of Columbus. Later, the St. Columcille United Gaelic Pipe Band played a rousing rendition of “Amazing Grace,” and parish musicians performed fitting tunes like “God Bless America” and “No Greater Love.”

Afterward, Boy Scout troops from as far as Ohio received special Four Chaplains patches after completing an educational program designed by St. Stephen’s Boy Scout Unit 305 for the anniversary.

“Eighty years is a long time to remember, but remember we must,” the Rev. Joseph Mancini, longtime pastor of St. Stephen’s, and perhaps the staunchest advocate for keeping the Four Chaplains forefront in parishioners’ minds, said. “We can never let the actions of the Four Chaplains fade away with time and history … The world can continue to learn from their actions, and we’re the ones charged with telling their story.”

St. Stephen’s Church has been the official sanctuary of the Four Chaplains since 2016, and has done much to keep the four men’s memory alive through the decades. Beyond celebrating an annual Mass in their name, the parish dedicated its Boy Scout troop and a scholarship program to the Four Chaplains so their legacy will be passed on to future generations.

Additionally, in 2013, St. Stephen’s immortalized the chaplains’ sacrifice when it commissioned internationally renowned sculptor Timothy Schmalz to create a 12-foot, 2,000-pound bronze monument as a testament to their heroism.

That statue was restored and rededicated a year ago.

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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.