Of the many young men to perish in the Allied Forces invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, only one military chaplain was among the casualties, Franciscan Father Ignatius Maternowski.
Father Maternowski was born in Holyoke, MA on March 28, 1912. He entered the religious Order of the Franciscan Friars Conventual and became a friar in 1932. He was ordained a priest by Bishop Thomas O’Leary of Springfield on July 3, 1938, in the chapel of Saint Hyacinth College and Seminary in Granby.
After the outbreak of World War II, Maternowski and several Franciscans of St. Anthony Province responded to the need for service as military chaplains. In July 1942, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and later volunteered to become a member of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regimen of the 82nd Airborne Division. After rigorous training with fellow troops, he attained the rank of captain.
In the early morning hours of D-Day, June 6, 1944, Father Ignatius Maternowski parachuted with a large number of troops into occupied territory in the town of Picauville in Normandy. An American glider had crashed nearby, and there were many casualties. Maternowski began ministering to the wounded and dead paratroopers and glider victims. Realizing that a suitable field hospital would be needed, he attempted negotiations with his German counterpart, in the hope of combining their wounded in one common hospital. Walking between enemy lines unarmed and wearing his chaplain’s insignia and a Red Cross armband, he went to meet with the head Nazi medic. As he returned through the no-man zone to the American side, he was shot in the back by an enemy sniper becoming the only U.S. chaplain to be killed on D-Day. He was 32 years old.
On June 9, 1944, U.S. soldiers of the 90th Infantry Division recovered Father Maternowski’s remains, which had been left on the road for three days. His remains were buried near Utah Beach in a military cemetary. In 1948, his remains were returned to his hometown of Holyoke for a Requiem Mass and he was laid to rest in the Franciscan Friars plot at Mater Dolorosa Cemetery in South Hadley, MA. His gravestone is etched with the words “There Is No Greater Love”, a quote from John 15:13 (No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.)
Father Maternowski received a posthumous Purple Heart from U.S. Government.
His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the U.S. Military Services, said Father Maternowksi stands as a role model for military chaplains everywhere.
Archbishop Broglio said:
“Christ taught us that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. When Father Maternowski was fatally shot at Picauville, he was attempting to negotiate with the Nazis to set up a field hospital for both Allied and German wounded soldiers. He walked into enemy territory, without a gun or helmet, in a brave effort to help the hurt and dying. He died courageously living out the words of our Savior, putting his life on the line to help others. Father Maternowski’s heroic sacrifice is an outstanding example of Christian love in practice, even in the face of great evil and adversity. As we pause to remember the brave who died to preserve our liberty on the beaches at Normandy, let us not forget Father Maternowski.”