Tag Archives: Catholic

Traditional Priest’s 1998 Murder Moves Closer to Solution

Police Issue New Appeal; Killer Might Have Died

Catholic World Report Series:
Inside the Life and Murder of Father Alfred J. Kunz

PART ONE

“Man’s days are like those of grass; like a flower of the field he blooms; the wind sweeps over him and he is gone, and his place knows him no more.”

—Psalm 103:15, from the St. Michael church bulletin, Feb. 22, 1998

By Joseph M. Hanneman
MADISON, Wis. — Sheriff’s investigators are exploring the possibility that the man who brutally murdered Father Alfred J. Kunz in March 1998 is dead, and they are urging the public to come forward with tips and clues needed to break the case and solve one of the most vexing killings in Wisconsin histor

After a 20-year investigation involving more than 50 detectives and thousands of interviews, the Dane County Sheriff’s Office has “multiple” persons of interest in the murder of the traditionalist Catholic priest. Dane County Sheriff David J. Mahoney said investigators believe it’s possible the killer himself is dead. This has added urgency to law enforcement appeals for the public to come forward with more information.

FB_IMG_1524501040307
Father Alfred J. Kunz celebrates the Traditional Latin Mass at St. Michael Catholic Church in Dane, Wis. (Photo courtesy of Mark Nelson)

“We have to look at the possibility that the person responsible, or others who might have been aware, are dead,” Mahoney said in an interview with Catholic World Report. “If that’s the case, we’ll never solve it unless somebody comes forth with evidence.”

Father Kunz, 67, was found with his throat slashed on the morning of March 4, 1998, in a hallway of St. Michael School in the rural enclave of Dane, about 15 miles northwest of Madison. He died from blood loss suffered when his carotid artery was cut during a brief but ferocious struggle with his killer. The massive murder investigation is the most extensive in Dane County history, but has yet to yield an arrest or assignment of blame.

“Where we’re at today, we have multiple people of interest, where 12 years ago we were concentrating our efforts on one individual,” Mahoney said in an extensive interview at the Dane County Public Safety Building. “We have multiple individuals who we would consider to be persons of interest, who either have motive or had a pattern of practices, maybe in the area of burglaries. We’ve looked at this as a crime of passion, we’ve looked at this as being a crime of opportunity — a burglary that was interrupted.”

New leads developed in the case over the past year have expanded the list of persons of interest. This development comes as one of the early persons of interest, a former St. Michael teacher who found Kunz’s body, has now been cleared of involvement in the crime. Mahoney wants members of the public who might have information to take a fresh look at memories from 1998 and in the years after. Investigators are hoping someone comes forward with information that can tip the case to a solution.

“Over the years, some of our witnesses and people with knowledge have died, and with them goes the information,” Mahoney said. “That’s one of the reasons we pushed more information out on the 20th anniversary. If there were family members of people who passed (away), or friends or associates or even somebody who heard something, we want to try to try to bring them out into the open at this point. Before we lose more people.”

Father Kunz was a sign of contradiction; a tradition-minded priest in the shadow of the liberal state capital. He was a 20th century fidei defensor, upholding Catholic teachings amid a sea of post-Vatican-II modernism. He preached the truth, no matter how unpopular. A sharp critic of homosexual corruption in the Church, he worked at the highest levels to expose priestly pederasty in rectories and chanceries. He saw the coming storm of sexual-abuse allegations that would swamp the Church years later and lead to more than $3.3 billion in victim settlements and attorney fees in the United States alone. “You will find no justice in the Church today,” he told a friend not long before his death. He worried the pederasty scandals would destroy the diocesan priesthood.

StMichaelSchool
St. Michael School as it appeared on March 4, 1998. (Dane County Sheriff’s Office Photo)

His celebration of the Usus Antiquior, or the Traditional Latin Mass, drew congregants from three states. Even though he also celebrated the Novus Ordo Mass, some locals left for other churches. Kunz had a soft pastoral touch and a generous heart. He fixed up old cars and provided them to his cash-strapped teachers. He took no salary. His sister sent him boxes of socks when his became worn. He ran successful fish-fry fundraising dinners to support his parish and school. A typical day for Kunz started at 5:30 a.m. and didn’t end until well after midnight. In between, he was a whirlwind of activity at church, in school, at diocesan offices in Madison, at hospitals and among his parishioners. His sudden, violent death left a trail of tears that still flows 20 years later.

Kunz was last seen alive about 10 p.m. on March 3, 1998, when his friend, Father Charles C. Fiore, dropped him off at St. Michael’s. The pair just took part in a recording session in Monroe for the “Our Catholic Family” radio program that aired on Sunday mornings across southern Wisconsin. Kunz fixed himself some dinner at the rectory and spoke by phone with another priest at 10:23 p.m. He then retired to his sparse one-room office that doubled as living quarters in the adjacent school. Police believe Kunz encountered his killer shortly after. His body was found the next morning, face down in a pool of blood at the foot of a statue of St. Michael the Archangel. Kunz was barefoot, dressed in dark slacks and a white T-shirt.

There were no signs of forced entry, so the killer gained access without leaving evidence behind, had a key or was let in by Father Kunz. Police said the attack was sudden and unexpected. Kunz, a Golden Gloves boxer in his youth, put up quite a fight and might have gained the upper hand on the suspect before being knocked to his knees by a blow from a weapon, Mahoney said. His throat was then cut with some kind of sharp-edge instrument, severing the artery that carries blood to the brain. No weapons were recovered.

Police believe the killer was a man, who might have been familiar with Kunz and St. Michael parish. While an FBI profile suggested the killer might have had an argument or altercation with Kunz in the 72 hours before the murder, Mahoney said it is possible the priest simply interrupted a burglary. The killer was likely shocked by the amount of blood that flowed when he cut Kunz’s throat. When he escaped from the school, the murderer was covered in blood and bearing noticeable injuries to his face, Mahoney said. Based on the wounds on Kunz’s hands, police believe the priest landed serious blows to the head of his attacker. An autopsy photo released by the sheriff’s office in 2018 shows Kunz’s right hand with major bruising along the index finger, bruises on three of the four knuckles and several small puncture-type wounds across the back of the hand.

“Father Kunz did engage physically with his murderer,” Mahoney said. “We believe whomever was in fact involved probably had some significant facial injuries and probably was visibly injured.” The assailant would have “looked like he had been beaten up,” Mahoney said. “Father Kunz had hand injuries. He knew how to land a punch.”

Profilers said the killer did not go to St. Michael’s that night intending to kill Kunz. Investigators believe the killer felt regret afterward. He went home with clothing soaked in blood that he would seek to wash or destroy. Family or friends would have noticed facial injuries. The suspect might have missed work the next day. The killer could have used a favorite hunting knife, box cutter or other instrument that he then discarded. Friends or co-workers could have noticed he no longer carried the cutting instrument and that he had a story for what happened to it. In the weeks, months and years afterward, the person could have had mental health issues, or struggled with alcohol abuse, police said.

Could something as simple as a burglary be the answer in this case? Kunz’s office was burglarized in 1994. The priest’s late-night routine was predictable, a fact that could be crucial if a burglar was watching the property. Kunz was security conscious and the school doors were always locked at night, friends said. Some collection money went missing in the weeks before the murder, police said. It was not unusual for bags of Sunday collection money to sit at the church, undeposited, sometimes for weeks. Large amounts of money had been moved between parish accounts in the months before the murder, and some large checks were cut, police said.

Early in the investigation, detectives questioned two men with ties to Kunz who were involved in burglaries. Jeffrey L. Maas of Pewaukee, Wis., pilfered statues, chalices, candles, books and artifacts from churches in five Wisconsin counties, police said. He was convicted in 1999 of four misdemeanor and five felony counts of theft and receiving stolen property. Robert M. Pulvermacher of Dane was arrested shortly after the Kunz murder and later sentenced to nearly four years in prison for burglary. He escaped from a prison work camp in December 1998. While on the lam, he attacked a local constable and wrestled his gun away, police said. During a massive search of central Wisconsin, a deputy confronted and disarmed Pulvermacher. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison on escape-related charges. Investigators concluded the men were not involved in the priest’s murder. The burglary motive, however, remains an active focus.

CWRHome
The Father Kunz murder series was the top story at Catholic World Report on Aug. 8, 2018.

The Kunz homicide was the first in the village of Dane since March 1971, when William C. Chambers shot and killed his 22-year-old son, Kenneth D. Chambers, during a long-simmering family feud. The father fired three bullets into the heart, brain and lungs of his son. He was later acquitted of first-degree murder. Kenneth Chambers was a member of St. Michael Catholic Church. Father Kunz officiated at his funeral Mass on March 13, 1971.

Read the rest at Catholic World Report

(Matt C. Abbott contributed to this report. Anyone with information on Father Kunz’s murder should contact the Dane County Sheriff’s Office, (608) 284-6900 or tips@danesheriff.com.)

Dane Priest’s Murder Unsolved 20 Years Later

For years, Father Alfred Kunz said the Traditional Latin Mass at St. Michael Catholic Church in the village of Dane, northwest of Madison. On Saturday, 20 years after the priest was brutally murdered in the adjoining parish school, a Solemn Requiem Mass was said for his soul at St. Mary of Pine Bluff Catholic Church.

Several dozen people attended the Latin Requiem Mass for Fr. Kunz, held in the beautiful St. Mary church west of Madison. It had every bit of the sacred reverence that Kunz brought to the Latin Masses he celebrated at St. Michael’s in Dane. Standing in stark contrast to the beauty of the incense, bells and Gregorian chant was the fact that Fr. Kunz’s killer has not been brought to justice.

28379751_185984072131665_301238174070178990_n
Fr. Alfred Kunz, 1930-1998

Father John Zuhlsdorf reminded those in attendance that a Requiem Mass is not a celebration of life, but a funeral Mass for the souls of the dead. He urged the faithful to think of their own deaths, and to pray that they not die without benefit of the sacraments, including anointing of the sick. Dying without the sacraments, known as an “unprovided death,” is a truly frightful thing, Zuhlsdorf said. He prayed that God would admit Fr. Kunz into the Beatific Vision of Heaven. (The photo atop this article shows Fr. Zuhlsdorf blessing the catafalque, which serves as a stand-in for the casket in Requiem Masses where the body of the deceased is not present.)

In the narthex of St. Mary’s stood an easel with a framed photograph of Fr. Kunz, inscribed with the words Ecce Agnus Dei, “Behold the Lamb of God.” It was a testament to Kunz’s 42 years of service as a Catholic priest in Cassville, Waunakee, Monroe and the village of Dane. It also spoke of the wounds left behind by such a violent death, perpetrated on a holy man dedicated to serving others.

Brutal Murder

On March 4, 1998, Kunz’s body was discovered in a school hallway by a teacher arriving for the workday. Kunz’s throat had been cut, causing him to bleed to death from a severed carotid artery. The edged weapon used to cut his throat was never found. Police said the killer might have discarded a knife or weapon that was a treasured possession; something he carried every day. Kunz’s body was found face down, at the foot of a statue of St. Michael the Archangel.

The ensuing investigation is said to be the most expansive, and expensive, in Dane County history. Yet no arrests have been made. On the 20th anniversary of Kunz’s murder, the Dane County Sheriff’s Department has begun releasing new details on the case in hopes someone will come forward with a tip that could break the case open. The department started posting details to a Facebook page set up in Fr. Kunz’s name. Some of the posts were written in first person, as if Fr. Kunz were speaking. After a few days, Facebook removed the page and all related content, with no explanation.

Father Kunz was last heard from at 10:23 p.m. on March 3, 1998, when he made a telephone call to a priest friend. Earlier that evening, Kunz attended the taping of a radio program, “Our Catholic Family,” with his friend, Fr. Charles Fiore. After being dropped off at St. Michael’s about 10 p.m., Kunz eventually returned to his living quarters in the school. The perpetrator, laying in wait, might have gained access through a window in Kunz’s apartment. Police said Kunz defended himself and tried to fend off the attack. Kunz was a former Golden Gloves boxer, in good physical shape despite his 67 years. Here is how the sheriff’s department described what happened:

Inside the school hallway, upon inserting my key into the lock of my private quarters and opening the door, it was then that the killer made his move. I saw and confronted the killer; I wasn’t afraid of him. He attacked, but we both landed some punches. The killer then attacked me with a weapon, and then pulled out a knife. I was knocked to my knees, and the killer then slashed my neck, which caused the fatal loss of blood.

On March 3, 1998, someone in the St. Michael school office overheard Fr. Kunz having a heated phone conversation, the sheriff’s department said. Kunz told the caller he could not see them that day. “Furthermore, I don’t think we have anything else to talk about,” Kunz said.

A criminal profile of the murderer suggested he not only knew Fr. Kunz, he was likely familiar with the layout of the church and the school. A former FBI profiler said the killer was most likely surprised by the amount of blood that resulted from the attack. The perpetrator left the school that night covered in blood. He might have been in an altered state of mind that night, and has lived in with regret, and denial, ever since. Details of the crime indicated a “very strong personal motive,” according to then Dane County Sheriff Gary Hamblin.

28661399_186990775364328_3208517694089748237_n
Father Kunz’s hands had defensive wounds, meaning he valiantly fought off his attacker. (Dane County Sheriff’s Department Photo)

The sheriff’s department said large amounts of parish money had been moved from account to account prior to the murder. Some “very large checks” were also cut. The week before the murder, collection money was missing from the St. Michael’s sacristy. Four months before the murder, Fr. Kunz told a friend: “Please, please pray for me.”

The murder case exposed biases and hostility in the media and community against the Traditional Latin Mass that Kunz so loved and revered. The TLM is the Catholic liturgy as it has been celebrated for millennia. Fr. Kunz regularly said the Latin Mass, although he also celebrated the Novus Ordo, or new order of the Mass, promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1969. Catholics from around Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois drove to St. Michael’s in Dane to participate in the 10 a.m. Sunday Latin Masses offered by Fr. Kunz. This was years before Pope Benedict XVI issued his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, which stated priests around the world can offer the Latin Mass without permission from a bishop.

One investigator remarked in 1999 that “people have described Kunz’s followers as cult-like.” This attitude smears traditional-minded Catholics and suggests they are followers of a priest instead of Jesus Christ in his Catholic Church. Latin Mass participants were described in media stories as “extremely conservative,” even rigid or at the fringe of Catholic life. Prior to Vatican II in the 1960s, the Latin Mass was simply Catholic, celebrated in the same way around the world. A profile of the Kunz case published in Las Vegas Weekly magazine in 2002 said the Latin Mass “seems to a visiting outsider like a postcard from some musty, long-forgotten time.”

From Devout Catholic Family

Alfred J. Kunz was born on April 15, 1930 in Dodgeville, Wisconsin. He was one of eight children of Alfred J. and Helen T. Kunz. His father emigrated from Switzerland in 1914. His mother was born in Michigan, although her parents came to America from Baden and Württemberg, Germany. Alfred Kunz Sr. was a cheesemaker. He established his own business, the Fairview Cheese Factory, near Stitzer in the Town of Liberty. The Kunz family was devoutly Catholic, attending daily Mass at St. Mary’s in Fennimore. The senior Kunz died on March 3, 1965, exactly 33 years before the attack that ended his son’s life. Mrs. Kunz died in January 1993 at age 98.

StMichaelSchool
Crime scene tape surrounds St. Michael Catholic School on March 4, 1998. (Dane County Sheriff’s Department photo)

A young Alfred heard a calling to the priesthood after suffering a nearly fatal bout of appendicitis at age 10. As he regained consciousness from surgery, he told his mother, “I want to be a priest.” In 1944, Fr. Kunz entered Pontifical College Josephinum in Worthington, Ohio, for a 12-year course of study. At the time, it was the only seminary in the United States under direct supervision of the Vatican. In November 1950, Kunz was featured in an essay in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, pictured serving Mass for Msgr. Gilbert Schmenck, procurator of Pontifical College. Kunz was ordained a priest at Pontifical College upon his graduation on May 26, 1956. According to his cemetery monument, he also held a canon law degree. He said his first Mass on June 3, 1956 at St. Mary Catholic Church in Fennimore. Fr. Kunz served at parishes in Cassville and Waunakee before becoming assistant pastor at St. Victor’s Catholic Church in Monroe. In June 1967, Bishop Cletus O’Donnell named him pastor of St. Michael’s in the village of Dane.

On a very stormy day in April 1965, Fr. Kunz had a brush with death just outside Monroe. As he was leaving town in his automobile, a tornado blew across the road, spinning his car around. When the winds had passed, Fr. Kunz’s car was pointed back toward Monroe. “I saw the light,” he told The Milwaukee Journal, “so I returned.” The storms that day did damage across a wide swath of southern Wisconsin.

IMG_7958 (1)_HDR (1)
Fr. John Zuhlsdorf reads prayers of absolution at the Solemn Requiem Mass for the soul of Fr. Alfred J. Kunz, held at St. Mary of Pine Bluff Catholic Church.

Fr. Kunz became known as a faithful and tireless defender of the truth of the Catholic faith. This in and of itself would have been unremarkable in another period of history when modernism didn’t have such a hold on an increasingly secular society. He was a vocal opponent of abortion and promoter of the sanctity of human life from conception until natural death. He once held a funeral for an aborted child at St. Michael’s, burying the baby at the foot of a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He preached the truth about the sinful vice of sodomy and spoke against no-fault divorce. His introduction of the Latin Mass at St. Michael’s rankled some people, even though the Novus Ordo Mass was offered as well. He said Mass for the school children every weekday. Three times a week those 8 a.m. Masses were in Latin.

Fr. Kunz worked hard to ensure that St. Michael’s Catholic Church was rebuilt in the 1970s after it was destroyed by fire. He handled maintenance tasks at the church and school, and even mowed the grass at the cemetery. He took no parish salary and drove a well worn Volkswagen in order to save money. His presence at monthly fish fry fund-raisers was almost legendary. He slaved in the hot kitchen to make sure enough food was available to serve all comers.

28685360_10156820973879041_1482208187657512062_n
Blood spatter on the student lockers at St. Michael Catholic School show how violent the attack on Fr. Kunz was. (Dane County Sheriff’s Department Photo)

The case of Fr. Kunz has at times been dominated by conspiracy theories and harsh assessments of the murdered priest. Because he was an exorcist, some contend Kunz was killed by Luciferians, or someone under Satan’s influence. The sheriff’s department contends Fr. Kunz had “intimate” relationships with women in his parish, although it has never provided details or indicated the source of this information. One former St. Michael parishioner questioned by the sheriff’s department said she felt Fr. Kunz’s name was dragged through the mud with such unsubstantiated allegations.

In a social media dispatch on the case, the sheriff’s department said, “Father Kunz taught that sending children to public school was a mortal sin. Father Kunz didn’t like his teachers socializing with the parishioners. Could someone have disagreed with Father Kunz’s views?” There was no source information offered on the claim that Fr. Kunz taught that going to public school was a mortal sin. The department also said Fr. Kunz was viewed as “very controlling; he had disbanded the church council and didn’t have a finance committee.” Police now say former St. Michael Catholic School Principal Maureen O’Leary was uncooperative during the investigation, even though she and Fr. Kunz were close. O’Leary suggested that the Dane County Sheriff’s Department should call off the the investigation and mark it “unsolved,” police said. “Could something she knew have been a motive for the killer?” the sheriff’s department asked on Facebook March 7, 2018.

Kunz’s friend Fr. Fiore was an early critic of sexual abuse committed by Catholic clergy and covered up by U.S. bishops. Fr. Kunz was a canon-law adviser to The Roman Catholic Faithful, a now-defunct nonprofit group dedicated to exposing sexual misconduct among priests and bishops. Because of this, some believe Kunz might have been killed to keep him from identifying priests or bishops who sexually abused boys or teenagers. Kunz was said to be helping Fiore prepare a report on sexual abuse by clergy, for delivery to Pope John Paul II. Father Malachi Martin said he believed Kunz’s killing was a “deliberate attempt by those who hated what he represented and what he was doing, to silence and disable him permanently.”

A tribute written on the 10th anniversary of his murder described Fr. Kunz as “completely faithful to Christ and the sacraments.” Written by Toby Westerman of Tradition in Action, the tribute continued:

“Like Christ the High Priest, he poured himself out for the love of God and the good of souls. In the words of his close friend and one of the founders of the pro-life movement in the United States, the late Fr. Charles Fiore, ‘in the end Fr. Kunz even poured out his own blood for Jesus and His flock.’ “

An appearance Fr. Kunz made at a public memorial service in 1967 seems in retrospect almost prophetic. Kunz was among five clergy members who spoke words of comfort at Juda High School for nine seniors killed when a plane crashed into the motel where they were staying on a class trip. More than 1,500 people attended the service in the Green County community, located between Monroe and Brodhead. Fr. Kunz spoke of the hope for the Christian dead, reading words from St. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians.

“We who live, who survive to the Lord’s coming, will in no way have an advantage over those who have fallen asleep. …The dead in Christ will first rise.”

At the conclusion of the March 3, 2018 Solemn Requiem Mass for Fr. Kunz, the faithful spilled into the narthex of St. Mary’s. They shared memories of Father Al, and wondered aloud if his murder will ever be solved. They spoke most of his love for the Traditional Latin Mass, and how his work helped lay the foundation for traditional Masses now said at St. Mary and other parishes across Wisconsin. Father Al would have been very much at home here in Pine Bluff. On this sunny March day in 2018, in fact, he was at home. ♦


—This article was updated at 9:07 p.m. and 11:26 a.m. CST March 7, 2018, 11:00 a.m. CST March 6, 2018, and at 9:35 p.m. CST March 4, 2018, with new case details from the Dane County Sheriff’s Department.

Anyone with information on the murder of Fr. Kunz should contact the Dane County Sheriff’s Department tips line, 608-284-6900, or via email, tips@danesheriff.com. The department set up a Facebook page in Fr. Kunz’s name, but Facebook has removed the page. The Fr. Kunz Twitter page is still being used by the department to share information on the case. Use the hashtag #whokilledfatherkunz.

God Bless America – A Beacon and a Promise

It was just after daybreak on a Saturday when Father M.W. Gibson climbed to the spire of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Racine, Wisconsin. In a bold sign that faith and patriotism go hand in hand, he hoisted an American flag onto the spire, where it waved in the breeze for all to see. It was April 20, 1861 and the War of the Rebellion had just broken out. Father Gibson wanted to remind area Catholics what was at stake in defending the country’s sovereignty.

Later that same day, a crowd of 1,000 people gathered in Racine’s Market Square (now called Monument Square) and marched north across the Root River to St. Patrick’s. They sought to thank Father Gibson for his patriotic statement. Gibson implored the crowd to recall that the country for which their forefathers lived and died was calling to them. The time had come, he said, to answer that call.

BeaconPromise

This true story is from a ceremony I wrote for the Knights of Columbus in 2009 to honor the American flag and those who have died defending it.

“Let us commit to always honor our flag and protect it. Protect it from enemies without – and within – who seek to diminish its honor, lower its stature or desecrate it in protest.”

Those words were used in a ceremony providing a reverent retirement by fire for American flags that were no longer fit for service. On this Independence Day, they also offer a look at how previous generations viewed the United States and the symbol of its freedom. We quoted the stirring words of Father Raymond Mahoney, who as chaplain of the Racine Knights of Columbus penned a poem in May 1920 honoring the American flag:

“Heaven itself is unfurling the flag of the land we love, and I hear Columbia telling her children the story of how the flag came to be”

In the blood that they gave for the cause of right
A thousand true martyrs lay
And the angel that tends on hero souls
Came down at the close of day
To gather them in, and to carry them
Before the Lord of all
Then as over their forms she kindly stooped
Her snow white wings let fall

On the ground that their blood had incarnadined
And it left on them a stain
And she feared that the Master would chide her
When she came to His presence again
Because on those wings once so undefiled
Now glowed that crimson stain

But as she passed on through the evening skies
The souls to her bosom clung
She tore from the skies a bit of the blue
And over her shoulders flung
That azure so deep, that was star begemmed
In thought perhaps it might
When she came to the throne of the Master, hide
The stain of blood from sight

So she lay at his feet those hero souls
And bent low with wings outspread
And he saw that those wings were star sprinkled blue, and white, and bloody red
He asked what it meant, why the wings were stained
In fear the angel said
“Oh, the red is the blood that theses heroes spilled
The blue is Your own fair sky
And with it I have sought to hide the stain
Lest it displease Your eye”

“The stain on your wings,” he answered her
“Is truly a blessed one
And is always the mark of a crimson tide
That for liberty has run

“For it tells of service and sacrifice
Of a life and a death or right
And the blue speaks of hope, the white as truth
Sends forth a welcome light
To gleam for mankind as for travelers beams
The building star of night

“Spread out your wings o’er the universe
That all who behold may see
The flag that speaks of love, truth and hope
The virtues that make men free”

You can watch the entire flag retirement ceremony below.

Read More: Flag Retirement Ceremony Script

Read More: Father Mahoney’s Flag Tribute

 

15,000 Attend 1918 Field Mass at Camp Dix

More than 15,000 Catholic soldiers, along with friends and relatives, took part in a May 1918 field Mass at Camp Dix at which they heard the president of Fordham University declare the Allies would win World War I because “God wills it.”

I don’t recall exactly where I obtained my photo of this incredible event. Nor do I know how the photo was captured. The panoramic view made for a photo print that is easily 3 feet wide. It stretches from the Knights of Columbus hospitality hall all the way to the end of the crowd.

1918 Field Mass at Camp Dix
More than 15,000 Catholic soldiers and their families took part in a field Mass at Camp Dix.

Held on the parade grounds of Camp Dix, N.J., the Mass was read by Father Patrick J. Hayes, who would later become a cardinal and archbishop of New York. Mass included a patriotic sermon by Rev. Dr. Joseph A. Mulry S.J. of Fordham University. “Dr. Mulry assailed the slacker who uses religion as a cloak for his cowardice,” wrote The New York Times. “He declared it was not only the country that is calling the men of the fighting nations, but God also.”

“We must not enjoy a dishonorable peace,” Mulry said. “Go forth, Christian men, to aid the boys who are in the trenches. They are holding them for you. Victory will come. God wills it.”

Bishop (later Cardinal) Patrick J. Hayes said Mass at the Camp Dix parade grounds in May 1918.
Bishop (later Cardinal) Patrick J. Hayes said Mass at the Camp Dix parade grounds in May 1918.

Mulry had long supported the Allied war against Germany. At a Knights of Columbus field Mass in May 1915, Mulry said 20 million Catholic men were prepared to back President Woodrow Wilson should the United States join the war. His sermon stressed the idea of a patriotic Catholic, something that was often under attack by Protestants.

“The Catholic of today puts into the state not the wavering intellectual culture of Athens, not the physical splendor of Rome, nor the deadly energies fostered by materialistic evolution,” Mulry said. “Not the ungodly tendencies  of modern mechanical idealists, but the undying strength featured by the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God.”

“If the crisis were to come today, the Knights of Columbus would be the first to rally to the flag,” The New York Times wrote, quoting Mulry. While he gets his religion from Rome, Mulry told the gathering, “the Catholic soldier will lay down his life for his country and as he clasps the cross in his hands, his heart blood will ebb for faith, for country and for God.”

Soldiers take advantage of free newspapers, candies and other personal items at a WWI Knights of Columbus hut. (Library of Congress)
Soldiers take advantage of free newspapers, candies and other personal items at a WWI Knights of Columbus hut. (Library of Congress)

The Knights of Columbus put its young men up to fight, but that was only part of the expansive, unprecedented war work carried out by the K of C locally and abroad between 1917 and 1921. The Order pledged an initial $1 million to establish a war relief fund. The money helped establish a vast network of more than 300 war relief centers in the U.S. and across combat zones in Europe. These Knights of Columbus “huts” offered a place to unwind, but also supplied soldiers with scarce creature comforts like chocolates, cigarettes, candies and hot chocolate. (The large K of C hut at Camp Dix is visible at left in the panoramic photo.) Soldiers from many countries and religious denominations came to know the K of C emblem as a welcome sight. Each K of C war center hung a prominent sign for all to see: “Everyone Welcome. Everything Free.” The nickname “Casey” became synonymous with the Knights of Columbus staff at the relief centers. A typical soldier’s response upon meeting a K of C worker was, “Hello, Casey. Have you got any chocolates and doughnuts?”

Father Mulry attempted twice to retire from his job at Fordham so he might go to France and enter war work. On the third attempt in 1919, he did retire from his post at Fordham. He was so anxious to go overseas that he offered to pay $5,000 a year toward the salary of his successor. He died in Philadelphia in August 1921 at age 47 after a long illness.Two of his brothers were also priests. His other brother, Thomas M. Mulry, was a bank president, philanthropist and 1912 winner of the Laetare Medal from the University of Notre Dame.

Sadly, Father Mulry’s patriotism isn’t always remembered fondly. Fordham University’s archivist in 2014 described Mulry as “sort of a warmonger” whose speeches did not sound like those of a Catholic priest. The patriotic fervor in his talks, she contended, “was all for image.” This modern attitude fails to appreciate the deeply held patriotic views of many priests during World War I. Men like Father Raymond Mahoney, former pastor of St. Rose Catholic Church in Racine, Wisconsin. Father Mahoney was known for  his patriotic sermons, including a memorable talk on liberty and the American flag. That will be the subject of a forthcoming article.

©2015 The Hanneman Archive

Remembering the Real Christopher Columbus

It seems every year the politically correct trot out a growing list of indictments against the great explorer Christopher Columbus. As we observe Columbus Day in the United States this October 12, some will claim Columbus was an oppressor. Others will wrongfully accuse him of racism. To get a real sense of why Columbus is under constant attack, remember that while he was a great explorer, he was first and foremost a faithful Catholic.

Some of the greatest minds in the history of the Church and the have spoken eloquently about the meaning of Columbus and his discovery of the New World in October 1492.

Christopher Columbus was "the destined herald of the true faith," according to Rev. John Hardon S.J.
Christopher Columbus was “the destined herald of the true faith,” according to Columbus scholar Rev. John Hardon S.J.

Father John M. Naughtin, who served as Wisconsin state chaplain of the Knights of Columbus in the opening years of the 20th century, preached an eloquent sermon on Columbus on October 16, 1910 at St. Rose Catholic Church in Racine. Naughtin’s audience at that 8 a.m. Mass was a large gathering of Racine Knights of Columbus and their families. (See below for the full text.)

“The very name Christopher is symbolic of the man’s character and deeds — Christopher mean- ing ‘Christ bearer’ — a messenger of peace,” Naughtin said. “Our great patron was a messenger bringing the knowledge of Christ from the old world to the new. What better name could God have selected for the man who was to do so much good for the universe?”

Pope Leo XIII issued an encyclical, Quarto Abeunte Saeculo, on the 400th anniversary of Landing Day. The Holy Father said this of Columbus: “The greatness of his mind and heart can be compared to but few in the history of humanity.”

The late Father John Hardon, S.J., an expert on Columbus, said the Genoa native  “was the instrument of extraordinary grace.” “It is one thing to say that Columbus discovered America,” Hardon said in 1992 on the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of the New World. “It is something else to realize that he opened the door to the most phenomenal spread of Christianity since the time of St. Paul.”

Hardon said Columbus’s “phenomenal career on earth was a heroic response to a sublime vocation. He was the destined herald of the true faith to half of the human race.”

Let’s remember this year to celebrate the real Columbus and ignore the nattering of the revisionists.

Homily of Rev. John M. Naughtin, October 16, 1910:

In the annals of history and tradition, no man stands forth more prominently than the man whose deeds we are commemorating today. For although Columbus has been dead about four hundred years, he is just beginning to be appreciated now. Only the infinite knowledge of God himself can grasp the meaning of the work of Columbus.

Father John M. Naughtin said Columbus "worked that the whole world might benefit from his deeds."
Father John M. Naughtin (1854-1921) said Columbus “worked that the whole world might benefit from his deeds.”

Think of what this western world has developed into since Columbus’s time — the home of millions and the homes of millions yet to come — all the work of a simple, practical Catholic man, Christopher Columbus, the Genoese. A man who was not understood in his own country; who many times did not have enough to eat. Italy would not have him; it jeered at him and practically turned him out to find in Spain a welcoming hand and the substantial aid that made his great work possible.

America owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to Spain. We are told of the deeds of the Caesars, of Napoleon and of Wellington, but all these figures were simply national — striving for one country, but Columbus is a worldwide character; he worked that the whole world might benefit from his deeds.

The very name Christopher is symbolic of the man’s character and deed: Christopher meaning ‘Christ-bearer’ — a messenger of peace. Our great patron was a messenger bringing the knowledge of Christ from the old world to the new. What better name could God have selected for the man who was to do so much good for the universe? In his youth, Columbus often sat by the seashore and wondered where and whence the great white winged ships came from. No doubt some had been on trips to the Holy Land and the Sepulchre and to follow in their footsteps became his one desire and that one thought dominated his life.

The Racine newspaper carried the account of Father Naughtin's sermon in its Oct. 17, 1910 editions.
The Racine newspaper carried the account of Father Naughtin’s sermon in its Oct. 17, 1910 editions.

Columbus did not belong to the 20th century class of explorers; he did not seek for material gain, but his great Catholic heart was filled with an overwhelming charity and love of God. He founded a home for people from every part of this world’s surface—for all colors, all races and conditions of men. His first act, upon reaching land, true, to his faith, was to fall upon his knees in devotion, dedicating this new world to the Almighty God. He did not crave acres of this new country, but rather that to the souls of these strangers might be brought the knowledge of God. Columbus was great — there have been none greater — but Columbus the Catholic was still greater. It was his faith which gave him the strength and the courage to undergo the trials of his explorations; to undergo, as Christ had undergone, the misrepresentations, the calumnies, the backbiting of his enemies and even to his returning to Spain in shackles after his wonderful trip which resulted in the discovery of a new land.

It is a good thing in this world of ours to have some model. The model we, the Knights of Columbus, have to imitate was, to be sure, a mere man, but great enough and powerful enough to do as God willed. The name Knights of Columbus is very appropriate—the word “knight” typifying everything that is admirable in a man, embracing all the manly qualities and this coupled with the name Columbus, has a wonderful significance.

Even as the attention of the stranger entering New York harbor is arrested by the Statue of Liberty towering for hundreds of feet and standing for the freedom of the new land, so does the greatness of Columbus tower im- measurably above that statue so that the whole world may gaze upon him, and gazing upon him, do him honor.

©2015 The Hanneman Archive

FURTHER READING:

Eye on the Past: Rudolph Grotto Shrine 1958

As many times as I’ve traveled to central Wisconsin, I was not aware of a beautiful, sprawling religious shrine built by a Catholic priest in thanksgiving for having his health restored after a visit to Lourdes, France in the early 1900s. The Rudolph Grotto Gardens near Wisconsin Rapids were the dream fulfilled of Father Philip Wagner, who developed and dedicated the site to the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1927.

I learned of Rudolph Grotto Gardens while researching a photo of my grandmother, Ruby V. Hanneman, standing near a statue of St. Philomena in 1958 or 1959. St. Philomena, who was martyred at age 13, is known as the Patroness of the Living Rosary. Her shrine at Rudolph Grotto Gardens was built in 1957 by Edmund Rybicki, Father Wagner’s right-hand man.

The first grotto shrine at the Rudolph site, dedicated to the Our Lady of Lourdes, was completed in 1928. When a young and sick Philip Wagner visited the famous shrine at Lourdes, he promised the Blessed Virgin Mary that if he were healed of his illnesses so he could become a priest, he would build a shrine to her in America. And so he was healed, and was ordained a priest in 1915. He was assigned to St. Philomena Catholic Church in Rudolph in 1917.

Ruby V. Hanneman stands at the St. Philomena shrine in Rudolph in the late 1950s.
Ruby V. Hanneman stands at the St. Philomena shrine in Rudolph in the late 1950s.

Over the years, the site expanded to include the Stations of the Cross, the Ten Commandments, a Last Supper Shrine, A “Wonder Cave” modeled after the catacombs, a Shrine of the Resurrection, a soldier’s monument and more.

Father Wagner and Rybicki labored on the site for decades. After Father Wagner died in 1959, Rybicki became the site caretaker. In 1961, St. Philomena Church was rededicated and renamed St. Philip the Apostle in honor of Father Philip Wagner. The last project at the grotto gardens was finished in 1983. Read more about the site here.

Lavonne Hanneman stands near an arch at the Rudolph Grotto Gardens in 1958 or 1959.
Lavonne Hanneman stands near an arch at the Rudolph Grotto Gardens in 1958 or 1959.
Ruby V. Hanneman at Rudolph Grotto Gardens in 1958 or 1959.
Ruby V. Hanneman at Rudolph Grotto Gardens in 1958 or 1959.

 

Bloody Battle of Shiloh Claims Michael Kennedy

Whether by voluntary enlistment or draft, the Civil War that began in April 1861 took fathers and sons away for years — and sometimes forever.

Michael Kennedy of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, was in the first wave of men to enlist after President Abraham Lincoln called for volunteers to defend the Union. The son of Sylvester and Mary Kennedy joined the 16th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment at Camp Randall in Madison on November 21, 1861. The regiment mustered into service on January 31, 1862 and left the state on March 13 en route to Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee. After several days encampment along the Tennessee River, the 16th Wisconsin was attached to the Sixth Division, Army of the Tennessee, commanded by Brigadier Gen. Benjamin M. Prentiss.

Early on April 6, Capt. Edward Saxe of the 16th Wisconsin’s Company A was ordered to make an advance toward the Confederate line. Within a short distance, an enemy volley killed Saxe and Sgt. John Williams. Thus opened the deadly Battle of Shiloh. The Battle of Shiloh went down in the annals of war as one of the bloodiest ever fought. It was a turning point for the Union. For much of the day, a desperate battle raged back and forth between Union and Confederate forces.

“The rebel hordes were coming on in front and flank, rolling up great columns like the waves of the ocean,” wrote Pvt. David G. James. Companies were moved in and out as ammunition and supplies ran short. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant told Gen. Prentiss if he could hold his position until sundown the army would be safe. Prentiss and his troops held until 5:30 p.m., when they were surrounded and more than 1,000 men taken prisoner. April 6 closed “at that time the bloodiest battle ever fought on the American continent,” James wrote. Prentiss’ Sixth Division suffered 236 killed and 928 wounded, in addition to the 1,008 captured.

At some point in wild battle, Kennedy was seriously wounded and captured by Confederate forces. Union troops were not able to recover bodies or make a full accounting of the missing until April 7, 1862. Kennedy was held prisoner at Corinth, Mississippi, where he died from his wounds on April 26, 1862. He was 20 years old.

We don’t know how much the captivity contributed to Kennedy’s death. Confederate prison camps were notorious for squalid conditions and severe mistreatment of Union soldiers. Kennedy was one of 39 soldiers from the 16th Wisconsin who later died from wounds sustained in the Battle of Shiloh. Overall, the 16th Wisconsin suffered 62 dead and 189 wounded in the battle. Kennedy is buried at Sacred Hearts Cemetery.

(This story was excerpted from “Catholic Pioneers on the Prairie,” a 28-page booklet written on the founding of Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Catholic Church.)

©2015 The Hanneman Archive

Unpublished Chapter a Portrait of Sainthood for Fulton J. Sheen

From my just-published article in Catholic World Report:

Driven and sustained by his daily holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen lived an intense life of holiness, zeal to save souls and Christian love that helped make him the most influential Catholic in 20th century America, biographer Thomas C. Reeves says.

Reeves has released a previously unpublished conclusion to his 2002 Sheen biography, America’s Bishop: The Life and Times of Fulton J. Sheen. The conclusion chapter, titled “Living Intensely,” covers Sheen’s spirituality, his inspiration and how others viewed his life. While Reeves does not directly promote Sheen as a candidate to be raised to the altars, his book’s concluding chapter is a very tidy summation of Sheen’s merits for sainthood. Reeves is making the chapter available for free on the internet, and has donated it for inclusion in his papers at Marquette University.

Fulton J. Sheen had a long tenure on radio hosting the Catholic Hour on NBC.
Fulton J. Sheen had a long tenure on radio hosting the Catholic Hour on NBC.

“To an extraordinary degree, his mind was on God,” Reeves wrote of Sheen (1895-1979), the prolific author and Catholic evangelist best remembered for his 1950s television series, “Life is Worth Living.” “This supernatural approach to life activated and sustained his enormous energy. He said late in life, ‘the secret of my power is that I have never in fifty-five years missed spending an hour in the presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. That’s where the power comes from. That’s where sermons are born. That’s where every good thought is conceived.’ ”

Read the rest at the Catholic World Report web site.

 

Catholic Faithful Plant the Cross on Wisconsin Ground in 1863

In every community you will find inspiring stories of courage, faith and perseverance. And so it was the case when I researched the 1863 founding of my hometown parish, Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Catholic Church in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. The project lasted several months, and turned up many fascinating stories from the mission-territory days of Wisconsin in the mid-1800s.

Stained-glass depiction of St. Paul, from Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Catholic Church.
Stained-glass depiction of St. Paul, from Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Catholic Church.

Full confession (pun intended): I served as an altar boy for years at Sacred Hearts in the 1970s, and graduated in spring 1978 from the fine Sacred Hearts School. The current church, the third edifice in parish history, has some of the most stunning stained-glass windows you will find outside of a cathedral. That’s what initially drew me to the history of Sacred Hearts.

So what did I learn?

  • The church was founded during the second expansion of Catholicism in Wisconsin (the first being black-robed Jesuit missionaries who explored the territory in the 1600s). Much of the area at the time was untamed wilderness, now being colonized by immigrants from Ireland, Germany and other parts of Europe.

    Rev. Francis Xavier Etschmann said the first Mass in Sun Prairie at the home of James Broderick.
    Rev. Francis Xavier Etschmann said the first Mass in Sun Prairie at the home of James Broderick.
  • The early missionary priests rode circuits hundreds of miles long, often saying Mass in private homes or rustic buildings with no roof. Father Martin Kundig, an indefatigable traveler and founder of many Catholic parishes in Michigan and Wisconsin, had an uplifting experience in 1843. The faithful gathered in a private home for Mass overloaded the floor, and everyone except Father Kundig crashed into the cellar. The people reached up and supported the priest, standing on a narrow plank, so he could finish saying Mass.
  • These pioneers led often difficult lives. The John Sprengel family lost three children to diphtheria within one week in 1882. Emerand Aschenbrucker lost his first wife during the birth of their daughter, Anna, in February 1867. Nicholas Mosel lost his wife to typhoid fever at age 54. The church brought comfort to these grieving families, offering the sacraments and a reverent burial for the departed.

    Founding Sacred Hearts parishioners Mary and Michael Conley.
    Founding Sacred Hearts parishioners Mary and Michael Conley.
  • The Civil War affected every aspect of life during Sacred Hearts’ early years. Two young parishioners died during their wartime service, including one who was wounded in the 1862 Battle of Shiloh and died in a Confederate prison camp. Another died on a furlough in 1864. He was just 15. A third was wounded in the Siege of Petersburg, Virginia, in June 1864.
The 28-page e-book can be found at catholicpioneers.com.
The 28-page e-book can be found at http://www.catholicpioneers.com.

When you set out to research a topic, you never know just what you will find. I found a very fascinating story in the “Catholic Pioneers on the Prairie,” which is what I titled the 28-page e-book that grew out of my research. I invite you to read the whole thing at Catholic Pioneers. View it online or download the e-book as a PDF file.

©2015 The Hanneman Archive

New Video Trailer for ‘The Journey Home’

The book about my father’s battle with lung cancer and his final months on this earth has been in print for nearly five years. It seems a good time to update the book’s official video trailer. The new version, posted below, is in high definition. Back when the original trailer was created, HD video was still fairly novel. But now HD is the norm on home televisions and computers, so it was time to upgrade this important promotional video. You can also view the video in a larger format here.