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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
For 80 years, there has been a member of the Hanneman family in the Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic fraternal and charitable organization. The line of service runs from Carl F. Hanneman (1901-1982), who joined in 1934, to his son David D. Hanneman (1933-2007), who joined in 1953, to his son Joe Hanneman, who joined the order in April 2007.
The three generations share other things in common with respect to the K of C, based in New Haven, Connecticut, with more than 14,000 local councils across America. All three have been members of the Fourth Degree, which focuses on patriotism and love of country. All three served in the Fourth Degree Color Corps and Honor Guard. The Honor Guard, wearing tuxedos, colored capes, ceremonial swords and plumed chapeaux, is a ceremonial presence at Masses, funeral wakes, Flag Day ceremonies and other events. Joe Hanneman served on the Honor Guard for the installation of Archbishop Jerome Listecki in Milwaukee. Carl joined the Fourth Degree in the late 1930s or early 1940s, judging by the group portrait of his exemplification class. David joined in 1973 and Joe joined in 2008.
All three also served as Grand Knight of their respective local K of C council. The Grand Knight is leader of the local council. Carl Hanneman was Grand Knight of Solomon Juneau Council 2770 in Mauston, Wisconsin in the late 1960s. David Hanneman was Grand Knight of Holy Family Council 4879 in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, from 2001 to 2003. Joe Hanneman was Grand Knight of Msgr. Stanley B. Witkowiak Council 697 in Racine in 2010 and 2011.
The Knights of Columbus is a fraternal and charitable organization founded in 1882 by Venerable Father Michael J. McGivney, whose cause for sainthood is being considered at the Vatican. The Knights operate under the principles of charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism. Knights raise money and volunteer for a wide range of causes, from pro-life programs such as crisis pregnancy centers, to programs providing free wheelchairs to the disabled, to grants to local programs that support the mentally retarded. The K of C and local councils have provided more than 500 ultrasound machines to crisis pregnancy centers.
Knights provide free coats to needy children each winter. They run a variety of athletic events, including Punt, Pass and Kick, and a basketball free-throw competition. Knights also support and promote vocations to the priesthood, sponsoring seminarians and providing other material support for those studying for the priesthood. In 2013, Knights provided a record amount of charity, with over $170 million raised and 70.5 million hours of voluntary service provided. In 2014, the K of C provided more than $2 million to help persecuted Christians from Iraq and other Mideast countries being targeted by ISIS and other terrorist organizations.
The Fourth Degree of the Knights is especially dedicated to patriotism and the idea that love of God and love of country go hand in hand. The Fourth Degree was founded in 1900 to combat the prejudiced notion that Catholics were not loyal Americans and could not be trusted in public office or with civic responsibility. The Fourth Degree provides free flags for schools and nonprofit organizations, supports veterans’ organizations, provides material needs to local veterans’ hospitals, and sends faith materials and other assistance to members of the military serving overseas.
Famous Knights include Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, one of the Catholic Church’s all-time great authors and communicators; former Green Bay Packers coaching legend Vince Lombardi; baseball’s Sultan of Swat, Babe Ruth; Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito; Ray Flynn, former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican; Cardinal Francis George, former archbishop of Chicago; Saint Rafael Guizar Valencia; and six martyrs of the Cristero War in Mexico: Father Luis Bátis Sáinz, Father José María Robles Hurtado, Father Mateo Correa Magallanes, Father Miguel de la Mora, Father Rodrigo Aguilar Alemán and Father Pedro de Jesús Maldonado Lucero. The K of C operates in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Philippines, Poland, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Panama, the Bahamas, the Virgin Islands, Cuba, Guatemala, Guam and Saipan.
A number of other members of the extended Hanneman family have been members of the Knights of Columbus: Earl J. Mulqueen Sr. (my grandfather), Earl J. Mulqueen Jr.,Donn G. Hanneman, longtime Wisconsin Rapids building inspector Arthur J. Hanneman, and former state representative Arthur Treutel.
— This post has been updated with a date correction and two new photographs.