The legendary Hindenburg rigid airship built by the Zeppelin Company is mostly known for a tragic reason. On May 6th, 1937 it met it’s untimely demise when it caught fire in the infamous Hindenburg disaster. Just one year prior, however, the Hindenburg made its maiden voyage across the Atlantic. On board was one Catholic priest, ready to do something no priest has done before.
On its maiden voyage and first of 17 round trips across the Atlantic Ocean, the Hindenburg departed from Frankfurt, Germany on May 6th, and would later arrive three days later on May 9th in Lakehurst, New Jersey. On board was Father Paul Schulte, a priest of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, from Aaachen, the westernmost city in Germany.
Father Paul Schulte was known as the “Flying Priest” or “Flying Padre,” because he founded the Missionary International Vehicular Association, or MIVA, which worked to provide automobiles, boats, and airplanes for the service of Catholic missions around the world.
Prior to departure, Father Schulte asked for special papal permission from Pope Pius XI to celebrate the world’s first airborne Catholic Mass. He ended up receiving that permission, and on the final day of their voyage erected an altar in the airship’s salon to celebrate Mass. However, for fear of explosion Father Schulte did not light the usual candles.
United Press reporter Webb Miller described the experience as a passenger aboard the Hindenburg in his 1936 book I Found No Peace:
“Father Paul Schulte, of Aix-la-Chapelle, known as the “flying padre,” celebrated the first mass in the air, for which the Pope had granted special permission. Schulte erected an altar in the salon, where all the passengers gathered. The candles were not lighted because of danger of explosion.”