Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Father Duffy: Why Was He Beloved?

At Times Square New York

Father Francis Duffy was the chaplain of New York's 69th Infantry, which fought in France as the 165th Infantry, a component of the 42nd through his gentle humanity and courage under fire, first to the men and officers of the regiment and then back home in New York City when the troops returned home and his story became generally known. After his death he was honored with the monument in Times Square shown above. In his book, Duffy's War: Fr. Francis Duffy, Wild Bill Donovan and the Irish Fighting 69th in World War (Potomac Books, Inc., 2006), author Stephen Harris gathered some of the best memories of those who knew Father Duffy. As you read these selections from Steve's book, concluding with some of Father Duffy's own words, you will understand why he earned the respect of everyone whose life he touched and why the values he embodied still matter to us today.

On the Battlefield, Nearing Exhaustion

[AT THE OPENING OF THE SECOND BATTLE OF THE MARNE,] realizing his place was at the front line comforting his men, Duffy stayed throughout the worst of the shelling and the harrowing hand-to-hand combat. Maj. Tom Reilley saw the chaplain constantly exposed to enemy fire as he tended the wounded and carried them on stretchers to the nearest dressing stations. ''His religion consisted of a cheery word, a smile, and a slap on the back,'' Reilley recalled. ''He made himself dear to many a doughboy by handing out cigarettes just at the right time."

Cpl. Martin Hogan observed, "One look into Father Duffy's face was good for jaded nerves; for his face radiated a cheerful calm which made the hell around us seem unreal. He might just as well have been walking down the silent aisle of some majestic cathedral for all his face told of heeding danger or of wrought-up nerves. He spoke little personal things to each of the men; it was as though his thoughts were not on the battle, as though no battle were going on.''

Coming Home: Father Duffy on the Right, with Colonel William Donavan

[AT THE BATTLE OF THE OURCQ A NEW YORK TIMES CORRESPONDENT] described Duffy as ''coat-less, covered with the thick of fighting, cheering on the living, administering the last the dying, filling the place of a stretcher bearer who had been struck down by a bullet...For 117 hours he was under fire without rest..." [ONE] of his sayings, according to the correspondent, was "Give 'em hell!" But while the battle raged on, the priest had been seen weeping.

When the fight was at its worst, [MAJOR ALEXANDER] Anderson asked the chaplain if he wanted some grenades. The priest said, "No. Every man to his trade. I stick to mine."


  1. FYI I am fairly confident that the Colonel Donovan pictured is the distinguished "Wild Bill" Donovan of OSS fame, as well as a Medal of Honor recipient for actions at Landres-et-St. Georges, France, on 14 and 15 October 1918.

  2. Looking at the photograph fills me with some hope whilst dealing with an bereavement.

  3. I'm surprised no film has been made expressly about Murphy.

    1. While not expressly about father duffy the fighting 69th starred pat Obrien as father duffy in WW1