By Sean Quinn
Kearny, N.J. – During the early morning hours of Feb. 3, 1943, four chaplains of different religions serving in World War II sacrificed themselves to save soldiers onboard the torpedoed USAT Dorchester when they gave their lifejackets to those who needed them. To mark the 80th anniversary of their deaths, St. Stephen’s Church in Kearny honored the men — Lt. Alexander D. Goode, a rabbi; Lt. George L. Fox, a Methodist minister; Lt. Clark V. Poling, a Dutch Reformed minister; and Lt. Father John P. Washington, a Catholic priest who last served at St. Stephen’s — 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,” said Archdiocese of Newark 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 like former Gov. Jim McGreevey. “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 far as the ones we honor today, giving our lives because of faith.”
The Mass first paid tribute to the Four Chaplains — as the men are universally known — 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,” said Father Joe Mancini, pastor of St. Stephen’s Church. “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, which the Archdiocese designated as the official Sanctuary of the Four Chaplains in 2016, 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. To learn more, visit https://ststephenkearny.com/father-washington.