Faith of our fathers

20 Nov 2000 | Cpl. Mike Rogers

Originally dedicated 58 years ago, St. Francis Xavier Chapel here bestows honor to the first Catholic chaplain to die in World War II.  The chapel will be rededicated, signifying the end of almost a year of renovations, during Mass at 11 a.m., Sunday.

Father Aloysius Schmitt chose his faith first, then the Navy.  After being ordained in Italy at the age of 26, Schmitt asked permission from his Archbishop to enter the Navy as a chaplain.  Commissioned in 1939, he served on USS Yorktown before his transfer to the ship he ended up serving aboard eternally.

While trapped in a compartment of the capsized USS Oklahoma during the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Father Schmitt helped his shipmates escape through a porthole that was too small for him to squeeze through.  He died when the compartment eventually flooded.  His heroism and self-sacrifice was recognized with the Navy and Marine Corps Medal and the subsequent commissioning of a destroyer named in his honor.  Father Schmitt's remains were never identified; however, the remains of all the unidentified dead of Pearl Harbor lie at rest in the Punchbowl National Cemetery in Hawaii.

The chapel was first dedicated by the Most Reverend Eugene J. McGuiness, then Bishop of Raleigh and is to be rededicated by Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien.

"Archbishop O'Brien is the pastor of Catholics throughout all the armed forces," said Cmdr. Jerome V. Dillon, the Catholic coordinator from South Sioux City, Neb.  "I function in his place for the Camp Lejeune community, but he is really their pastor."

A framed photo of Schmitt and a copy of his medal and citation will be displayed in the foyer as part of the rededication.

Stained glass windows are prominently displayed throughout the chapel and were installed and dedicated in 1948; they were paid for with contributions of Marines throughout the world. 

The 24 windows symbolize saints whose lives have special meaning for Marines and Sailors including St. Joan of Arc and St. Michael.  They are dedicated to the "men and officers" of Marine organizations who gave their lives during World War II.

One thing the windows have in common is the intricate design and attention to detail used during craftsmanship that still shows more than 50 years later.

"The detail found within the stained glass is amazing," said Desert Storm veteran Father Dillon.  "It ties in military and faith of military to the Marines and Sailors that originally put them there. You find something new in each window in the chapel: personal awards including the Medal of Honor and Purple Heart and unit names from the war."

The chapel offers services that include daily Mass, confessions, baptism and a full range of religious education programs for children and adults.  The chapel also hosts various youth group activities.

The St. Francis Xavier Chapel was dedicated to the courage and self-sacrifice of a single chaplain in World War II.  Today, it still represents the values of Marines, Sailors and their families who devote their conviction to "the faith of our fathers."