Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Father Jerome – War and Its Legacy

World War I, 1914-1918 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin. 

JOHNNY, I HARDLY KNEW YE (Irish traditional)

With your guns and drums and drums and guns, haroo, haroo
With your guns and drums and drums and guns, haroo, haroo
With your guns and drums and drums and guns
The enemy nearly slew ye.’
Oh my darling, dear ye look so queer, Johnny I hardly knew ye.

According to several sources the song, ‘Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye’ dates from the early 1800s.  Irish troops were heavily recruited by England to serve in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).  During the American Civil War, the song was re-framed as a celebratory one, ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home.’  A side note: ‘Johnny we hardly knew ye’ was a comment by Cardinal Cushing at John Kennedy’s funeral.

          Jan Maher, Most Dangerous Women – Script, Dog Hollow Press,      Plattsburg, NY, 2015, p. 3 & 95.

 I remember my mother talking about her uncle, Father Jerome (religious name; Timothy was his baptismal name).  He stayed with the family in Chicago for a short time before being established as a priest in Sioux City, Iowa.  My mother said that she thought he was strange.  Father Jerome insisted that she and her younger brother go over to the church and go to confession even before their scheduled First Communion and First Confession.  They went to the Catholic school, had religion classes, and were surprised by their uncle-priest’s insistence that they move ahead of the school’s timetable.  Mom explained that Father Jerome suffered from ‘shell shock,’ now called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Father Jerome had served as a chaplain in the British Army during WWI. 

   Timothy Walsh (Fr. Jerome) was born in Coolaclarig, Ireland in 1878, a time of rebellion over land domination by the British.  My grandmother told me that the family was evicted from their farm, but forced the sheriff and his men to carry them out of their home.

   At 16 years old, Timothy joined the Franciscan Order and was sent to England for studies.  He was given the Latin name Hieronymus – Jerome in English.  ‘Jerome’ was ordained a priest in 1901 and assigned as a chaplain in the British Army in 1915 and served in France.  Father Jerome was discharged in 1919.  He left the Franciscans, emigrated to the U.S. and joined the diocese of Sioux City, Iowa as a parish priest.  He died in Keokuk, Iowa in 1928 and was buried in Chicago’s Calvary Cemetery.  My grandmother traveled from Chicago to Keokuk when his health became critical.  The hospital report said he died of ‘Septic exhaustion neurosis, (shell shock)’ now called post traumatic stress disorder.  My brother and my uncle’s middle name is Jerome and I have a first cousin named Timothy.  They are all named after my grandmother’s brother, Father Timothy, Jerome Walsh.

   Other possible influences on the family: An uncle refused bombing runs in WW II and transferred to the Medical Corps.  My brother and a first cousin were rejected for conscientious objector status during the Viet Nam war.  Did Fr. Jerome stories have anything to do with my vocation to the priesthood?

   A docent at the Imperial War Museum in London told me that in WWI Roman Catholic chaplains were on the front lines in contrast to the Church of England chaplains who stayed back.

   What was it like for Father Jerome on the front lines?  Consider an excerpt of a letter of a Finnish officer defending Finland from invading Russians, a letter written to his brother in winter of 1940:

Dear Brother,

…If there had not been that frightful, tearing artillery fire with its rending explosions, one would almost have pity for the grey Russian masses.  … Obediently and silently, they came … against the death spitting mouths of our machine guns… Murderous fire swept the field time after time leaving only twisting heaps of bodies, which soon became immobile.  …

One would have felt sorry for these grey hordes marching to the slaughter, but the incessant artillery fire aroused merciless hate in us who were subjected to it.

    I am not ashamed to confess that artillery fire to me, as well as to most others, is simply revolting.  I have not yet suffered from ‘artillery sickness,’ although I feel like pressing my hands against my ears and crying out in pain.  The explosion of six inch shells on an average of every fourth second during nine consecutive hours, the incessant detonations, screaming splinters and blinding bursts of flame create in our bodies unspeakable terror, which can be overcome only by exercising one’s entire psychic courage…
Yours, Lassie

 Virginia Cowles, Looking for Trouble, Harper Brothers, New York & London, 1941, p. 323.

So many questions remain; I would appreciate your comments.  Consider and respond to one, some, or all of the following:

What would Sir Roger Casement say?                                                                 

Sir Roger Casement, a knighted subject of the King, was hanged as a traitor for his involvement in the 1916 Easter Rising for Irish independence.  Seumas MacManus, in his book Ireland’s Case,  (Irish Publishing Co., N.Y. 1917, pp. 208-9,) argues that Casement did nothing more than Sir Edward Carson of Northern Ireland who appealed for help from Germany’s Kaiser in trying to prevent Home Rule for Ireland.  Carson became a Cabinet member.              

For the full story see:  Mario Vargas Llosa, The Dream of the Celt, Picador, New York, 2010.

Why would an Irish - Franciscan priest volunteer as a chaplain in the British Army?

Why would Roman Catholic priests be on the front line while Church of England chaplains stay in the rear?

Did Father Jerome’s religion fail him?     

What is the evolution of this term, PTSD?    

Is there ever an end to war?  Why protest – what good does it do?

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