A Heroic World War II Religious Order Chaplain, Brooklyn Born and Bred

Brian Jordan, OFM Friar News

A son of the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y., educated by the Jesuits, joined the Franciscans and became a priest. As a U.S. Army Chaplain in World War II, he died on the battlefield in France. Who is this heroic man? Fellow friar and Brooklynite Brian Jordan, OFM, shares the friar’s history below.

Son of the Brooklyn Diocese
Leonard Joseph Ternan was born in Brooklyn on No­v. 8, 1902, to Bernard and Julia Ternan. Both parents were of strong Irish Catholic heritage. He had two sisters, Dorothy and Catherine. Brooklyn, at the turn of the century during the Industrial Revolu­tion, and before America’s entry into World War I, was an exciting place for a young man. The Ternan family lived on Logan Street, located on the border of the East New York and Cypress Hills sections of northeast Brooklyn, near the borough of Queens.

In mid-November 1902, Leonard was baptized in St. Malachy’s Parish in East New York. In 1916, he graduated from St. Malachy’s Parish Elementary School. At six years old, Leonard received his first Communion and at 10 years old, he was confirmed by the local bishop. About this time, his family decided to become members of the new parish of Blessed Sacra­ment in Cypress Hills that was founded on Feb. 14, 1891 and blessed by Bishop John Loughlin. At the time, Cypress Hills was predominantly an Irish and German neighborhood.

During his youth, Leonard showed athletic prow­ess on the playing fields of Highland Park adjacent to Cypress Hills and the Glendale, Queens, border. He was a member of the Highland Athletic Club, where he excelled in baseball. He also played football for the Bushwick Athletic Club.

In 1916, Brooklyn was undergoing a transition. It was an independent city in New York State until 1898, when it was incorporated into the City of New York with its four other boroughs. It was the fastest growing borough, with nearly 2.5 mil­lion people living there in 1916 when Leonard gradu­ated from St. Malachy’s. At that time, the Diocese of Brooklyn comprised Brooklyn, Queens, Nassau and Suffolk counties. The Diocese of Brooklyn is today comprised of Brooklyn and Queens counties, and is the largest urban diocese in the United States.

In 1916, the United States was anticipating its entry into World War I, which took place in April 1917. Many young men from East New York and Cypress Hills enlisted in “the war to end all wars.”

Educated by the Jesuits: Brooklyn Prep
In the fall of 1916, Leonard was accepted into the prestigious Jesuit high school located in the Crown Heights section of north central Brooklyn. Brooklyn Prep was one of the many outstanding Jesuit high schools in the metropolitan New York area together with Fordham Prep in the Bronx, Regis Prep and Xavier Prep in Manhattan, and St. Peter’s Prep in northern New Jersey. Except for Brooklyn Prep, all remain vigorous institutions today.

Brooklyn Prep opened its doors to gifted male students in 1908. Its mission was to prepare students for higher education and a sense of service for those in need. For a number of reasons, Brooklyn Prep closed its doors in 1972. The grounds and building are now part of Medgar Evers College of the CUNY system. Among its well-known Jesuit faculty were Fathers Daniel Berrigan, SJ, and Joseph Bermingham, SJ. At the time, Brooklyn Prep was just a few blocks from Ebbets Field, home of the Brooklyn Dodgers , that opened in the fall of 1913. Since Leon­ard was a star athlete, it was possible he was a Brook­lyn Dodgers fan.

The archives of Brooklyn Prep reveal that Leon­ard played both football and baseball. The records indicate that although he entered as a freshman high school student in 1916, he did not graduate until 1923. Seven years to complete high school? Lindsay Willert, registrar at Xavier High School in Manhat­tan – where the academic records of Brooklyn Prep are held – indicated that it took five years for Leonard to complete both his freshman and sophomore years, whereas it only took two years for Leon­ard to complete his junior and senior years. What happened?

Fr. Daniel Fitzpatrick, SJ, is pres­ently spiritual moderator of the Brooklyn Prep Alum­ni Association at Fordham University. He thinks there may be two reasons. First, poverty was common at the time and a student’s family may have been unable to pay tuition on a regular basis. The student would have to wait and return to school only when tuition was paid. Second, Leonard’s high school years were in the midst of World War I. Some classes may have been suspended if some of the male faculty joined the armed forces or students’ dads left work to enlist. In such a case, there would be no income to pay tuition until after the war. Whatever the reasons, Leonard graduated from Brooklyn Prep in 1923.

Educated by the Jesuits: Fordham University
In the fall of 1923, Leonard entered Fordham Univer­sity in the Rose Hill section of the Bronx. According to Fordham University archives, his freshman class of 288 was the largest in Fordham’s history at that time. Fordham was founded in 1841 and at first, its mission embraced only male students. Women were admitted to full time studies in 1974. Many of Leonard’s class­mates were recruited from the metro area Jesuit high schools such as Brooklyn, Fordham, Regis, Xavier, and St. Peter’s Prep. The univer­sity yearbook for the class of 1927 shows Ternan in class photo #41, while photo #165 depicts “Butch” Ternan and the football team. The yearbook is illus­trated with photos and its captions make for mean­ingful reading. Read the description of #165 and his university resume. It appears that young Leonard was an avid church-goer while at Fordham.

Leonard may have become a New York Giants Football fan, since they began as an NFL team in 1925 when he was a university junior. Soon the New York Football Giants began to play in Yankee Stadium. For that matter, Leonard might have become a Yan­kees baseball fan in 1927 when he graduated from Fordham University. Then at nearby Yankee Stadium, the Yankees were known as “Murderers’ Row” with hard-hitting players such as Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig

Leonard graduated with a bachelor of arts de­gree in June 1927. Like most Irish Catholics in New York City, he was a proud product of Catholic education. He was taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph in elementary school and, for nearly 11 years, by the Jesuits in both high school and university. He knew he had a vocation but rather than commit himself to a particular diocese or a particular religious order, Leon­ard decided to enter the workforce after graduating from Fordham.

Leonard Ternan graduated from Fordham University’s Rose Hill campus in June 1927. This is a page from “The Maroon” yearbook with his class photo, list of activities, and a classmate’s reflection about him.

Discernment of Spirit: To Whom Shall I Go?
For more than five years, Leonard worked for the New York Telephone Club in their Bronx field office. There is no data to indicate whether he installed telephones or helped to sell telephones or was in the community affairs unit to promote good publicity for the company. In addition, there is no data to indicate whether he lived in the Bronx or possibly in Manhattan.

Evidently, he sensed a call to a religious voca­tion. On the surface, it would appear that Leonard would become either a Brooklyn diocesan priest or a Jesuit priest. However, true discernment of spirit goes beyond the surface of preconceived notions and shallow reflection. It involves a profound examination of conscience and a meaningful interiority of heart, mind and soul.

Leonard was among the first laymen to join the St. Patrick’s Clerical Club, a vocational discernment group in Manhattan led by Fr. John Cor­bett, SJ. The club was based in St. Patrick’s Cathedral and served as a sounding board for men in the workforce who were contemplating a vocation to the priesthood, whether religious or diocesan.

After a careful period of reflection, Leonard de­cided to become a Franciscan priest in Holy Name Province of the Order of Friars Minor, which was based at St. Francis of Assisi Church on West 31st Street on the west side of Manhattan. Many people were – and are – surprised that Leonard did not become a Jesuit, since he was educated by Jesuits at both Brooklyn Prep and Fordham University and because the St. Patrick’s Clerical Club was men­tored by a Jesuit.

Three strands of thought try to interpret his deci­sion. First, Leonard may have been leaning toward a Jesuit vocation, but it is possible he was advised other­wise by Fr. John. Leonard was 31 years old when he joined the St. Patrick’s Clerical Club and may have been thought too old to be a Je­suit. Historically, the Jesuits have a prolonged forma­tion program emphasizing rigorous studies as well as a period of intense spiritual development. This could last up to 12 years, which would make Leonard 43 years old at the time of his ordination. It is quite possible he did not want to wait that long.

The other possibility is that the Jesuits already had a large num­ber of younger candidates and the Society preferred to invest their resources in them rather than in older candidates. Times have changed! Nowadays, 31 is considered a younger candidate.

Second, Leonard might have been acquainted with the Franciscan friars of Holy Name Province in two possible ways. From 1923 to 1927, he was in the Bronx for his university education and from 1927 to 1933, he worked in the Bronx and may also have lived there. At that time, he may have met the Franciscan friars of Holy Name Province, who founded and staffed Holy Cross Parish in Clason Point in the Bronx in 1921. It is not far from Fordham University or from where he might have lived in the Bronx, but there are no records to prove this conjecture.

Third, another possible encounter with Holy Name Province might have been with the Franciscan friars at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Manhattan. St Francis was well known then, as now, for confessions. While working for the New York Telephone Com­pany, Leonard may have received the Sacrament of Reconciliation there, as well as encouragement from the friar confessors.

Since Leonard worked through the latter part of the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression, he might have encountered Lady Poverty in a profound way. Br. Gabriel Mehler, OFM, a porter at St. Francis Church, helped to organize the world-famous St. Francis Breadline that began in the after­math of the stock market crash of October, 1929. To this day, the Breadline at St. Francis of Assisi Church is the oldest Breadline in United States history. Every morning, the breadline offers unemployed and underemployed people cof­fee, a sandwich and a kind word from a Franciscan friar. Leonard may have witnessed this heart-warming corporal work of mercy from time to time during the Great Depression. This may have inspired his Fran­ciscan vocation, but there is no evidence to support it.

Leonard, to whom shall you go? As it happens, to the Franciscan novitiate in Paterson, N.J.

Franciscan Formation, Ordination and First Assignment
Leonard was received into the Franciscan novitiate at St. Bonaventure Parish in Paterson, N.J. He was clothed in the distinctive brown habit of the Or­der on Aug. 26, 1933 and professed his simple vows on Aug. 27, 1934. As was customary before the Second Vatican Council, Leonard received a religious name. Leonard Joseph Ternan took the name “Domi­nic” after St. Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers, also known as the Dominican Order. St. Dominic and St. Francis of Assisi were both con­temporary founders of religious orders in the 13th century. It is customary that a Franciscan friar would preach on the feast of St. Dominic on Aug. 8 and a Dominican friar would preach on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi on Oct. 4.

After novitiate, from September 1934 to June 1937 Leonard (now called Dominic for the balance of this article) was assigned to Holy Name College in Washington, D.C., for theological studies leading to the priesthood. At the time, Holy Name College was the theologate for the Franciscan friars of Holy Name Province. The majority of the faculty were members of the Province. Everyone lived together in commu­nity amid demanding academic studies and in-depth spiritual development. It was a Franciscan community of more than 50 friars, the overwhelming majority studying for the priesthood.

On Sept. 17, 1937, the feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis of Assisi, Dominic pronounced solemn vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. With­in two weeks, on Sept. 30, 1937, he was ordained to the priesthood at St. Paul’s College (run by the Paulist Fathers) in Washington, D.C. by Bishop John McNamara. He celebrated his First Mass as a priest at his home parish of Blessed Sacra­ment, Cypress Hills, in early October 1937.

His first assignment as a member of the Province was to the mother-church, St. Francis of Assisi on West 31st Street in Manhattan. In addition to celebrating Mass and hearing confessions, Dominic was a substi­tute chaplain in nearby hospitals. He was compassion­ate to the sick and the unfortunate. He really enjoyed being a priest at St. Francis of Assisi.

Dominic with his niece, Julie Doran, and nephew, James Dornan, in their family home in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn, in January 1944. This was the last family photo taken before Dominic left the United States to serve in the Allied invasion of Normandy, France.

U.S. Army Chaplain in World War II
In April 1942, the United States was at war and Dominic was given permission by the provincial minister of Holy Name Province to join the U.S. Army Chaplains Corp. His U.S. Army chaplaincy course was con­ducted at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indiana. After this training course, Dominic served as chaplain to three U.S. military bases in the United States. He was first at Camp Pickett in Virginia and then at two other U.S. Army camps in nearby states. Of the 27 months he served as a U.S. Army chaplain, 25 months were in the United States and the rest in Great Britain and France. The Franciscan provincial archives indicate that Dominic provided religious instructions for more than 150 US soldiers to be received into the Roman Catho­lic Church, in addition to celebrating the sacraments and offering wise counsel. It was quite an accomplishment for under 25 months!

In May 1944, his unit was deployed to Great Britain and engaged in training exercises in anticipa­tion of a great battle. Dominic was part of General Omar Bradley’s First Army in the 79th Division and attached to its 315th Regiment. One of the turning points of the war in Europe happened on the morn­ing of June 6, 1944, when Allied troops disembarked from English ports and landed on various beaches on the Normandy coast of France. Casualties were high among the American forces, together with British, Canadian and French troops, during that bloody battle on the beaches of Normandy. Dominic witnessed and survived that terrible ordeal. Victory in that pivotal battle was paid in blood, bullet holes, bruises and lifelong nightmares.

Fr. Ignatius Maternowski, OFM Conv.
Dominic was not the first American Franciscan chaplain to be killed in the line of duty in World War II. On D-Day itself, Fr. Ignatius Maternowski, OFM Conv., was killed in the line of duty. Recall that the Franciscan Order exists in three branches. The Franciscan Observants and the Conventual friars date to the 13th century, while the Capuchin reform dates to 1528. All are consid­ered First Order Franciscans.

Fr. Ignatius was an Army Chaplain with the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne and parachuted into the coastal area of Normandy. When this tough Conventual Franciscan Polish-American noticed the casualties mounting on both sides he came up with a wonderful humanitarian idea. During a brief ceasefire, Fr. Ignatius, on his own initia­tive, approached the opposing German forces and requested that both sides agree to set up a joint hospi­tal facility to care for the wounded, but his request was immediately denied. Believing he had safe passage, he attempted to return to his American post, but in a cowardly act, German soldiers shot him in the back with machine gun fire. Fr. Ignatius was post­humously awarded the Bronze Star for his bravery.

Father Ternan’s Road to Calvary
Thirteen days after D-Day, Dominic’s 315th Army Regiment was ordered to move inland and seize territory for the Allies. Their objective was to take the town of Cher­bourg. On the way, they faced stubborn German resistance that demanded more of their time and took the lives of many US soldiers. On the morning of June 19, 1944, Dominic’s regiment was on the Co­tentin Peninsula preparing to attack Cherbourg from the north bank of the river Douve. Dominic went forward with lead elements of his unit at five o’clock in the morning. Near the village of Valognes, Dominic stopped to minister to a wounded sergeant. He was shot in the back by a German sniper, falling over the body of the soldier he went to aid. On June 19, 1944, Dominic became the first American OFM Franciscan to be killed in the line of duty in World War II.

A passage from Donald Crosby’s book, “Battlefield Chaplains: Catholic Priests in World War II,” describes the aftermath of the fateful shooting:

The wounded sergeant would survive, but Ternan expired immediately. Once again, a Germany infantryman expressed his deep regret that he had slain a chaplain, but insisted that the raincoat Ternan was wearing had hidden his chaplain’s insignia and his Red Cross arm band. Both the Army and the chief of chaplains treated his apology with contempt, condemning it as an exercise in arrogance and self-service and unworthy of a serious response (p. 134).

It is unclear if the German sniper’s life was spared or not.

In their chaplaincy training during the war, U.S. military chaplains were instructed to minister to soldiers of all faiths, not just their own. Dominic was no exception. In fact, just before his death, he sustained a great friendship with Protestant church leader Dr. Daniel A. Poling. In a church journal called “Sign,” Dr. Poling wrote about the death of Dominic as “the perfect picture of Christ-like devotion to his high calling, one that he proved by his courage in kneeling next to a wounded soldier, and was subsequently shot in the back by a German sniper.”

Burial in Chateau Sevigny, 1944
Many American and Allied soldiers died in France during World War II. Rather than shipping their bodies back to the United States or to their respec­tive nations, the majority of U.S. soldiers were buried in special military memorial cemeteries throughout France. Dominic was buried with members of his flock in a battlefield cemetery. To honor his memory, a stone column was erected facing the entrance of the castle. A bilingual plaque was attached to this stone column. It read: “First Lieutenant Dominic Ternan, chaplain of the 315th Infantry Regiment of the 70th division of the United States Army, was killed near the bridge Toves at Sevigny, on the 19th of June 1944 by a German sniper while giving the last rites of the Church to a wounded soldier.” The plaque and stone column still remain at that site.

Three Memorial Masses
Dominic was a son of the Diocese of Brooklyn, edu­cated by the Jesuits, who became a Franciscan priest. Since there was no body present, the three ecclesial institutes celebrated a Memorial Mass for the repose of his soul.

The first Memorial Mass was celebrated in the motherhouse of Holy Name Province, the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, in Manhattan in early Au­gust 1944. The principal celebrant was Provincial Minister Bertand Campbell, OFM. There were many other priests from Holy Name Province, the Diocese of Brooklyn and the Archdiocese of the Military Ordinariate, which was located in Manhattan at the time. To reiterate, Dominic was the first OFM Franciscan to be killed in action in World War II. This was certainly treated as a solemn occasion by Holy Name Province with this special Mass.

The second Memorial Mass was celebrated in the parish of Dominic’s family, Blessed Sacrament, in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn. Recall that this was the same parish where Dominic celebrated his first Mass in Oc­tober 1937. The Memorial Mass was celebrated on Aug. 7, 1944 and the celebrant was the pastor, Fr. James H. Dolan (who was also present at the first Mass at St. Francis of Assisi.) The homilist was Fr. Charles Diviney, a diocesan priest from the Diocese of Brooklyn who graduated with Dominic from Fordham University in 1927. Fr. Charles knew Dominic for nearly 21 years. He was the ideal priest to offer this moving homily. Some excerpts:

“The War Department has notified us that Chaplain Dominic Ternan is dead. Our faith tells us he was never more alive. The papers report that he died as a hero crucified on the cross of war. The Scriptures relate that Christ was crucified on the Cross in His war against sin. They also describe His Resurrection and because of it we are assured that this ‘alter Christus’ will rise again one day…”

“We learn that his body lies somewhere in France, in that rich earth a richer dust conceals, but strangely enough his memory, which was buried in the recesses of our minds with a thousand other thoughts, becomes today more vivid and real than ever before. Like all men in the moment of anguish, we are wont to forget the joy and the ecstasies of the past; we neglect to remember that human life is never all joy or all sorrow. It is necessarily a combination of both…”

“But when he was assigned to the parish of St. Francis of Assisi, that great beehive of spiritual activity, he accepted with alacrity and served his time there with a singleness of purpose and a thoroughness of action that marked him as a true son of St. Francis… Perhaps his greatest contribution to the life of the parish was his work as a confessor. The transient population that flows through the doors of that unique church found him kind, sympathetic and yet firm and penetrating when it came to advice and admonitions…”

“Because of his rugged constitution, he could endure all the physical hardships that his men did. To them, he was really a padre with all the affection that soldiers and sailors are accus­tomed to use in that term. When he landed in France, he was still there in the front lines with his men. That is why death found him as he was anointing a stricken soldier. He died as he lived—every inch a man, a soldier, a priest…”

“Their loss, bitter as it may be, can be mitigated somewhat by the thought that they have given to God and their country not only their son but really a part of themselves.”

The third Memorial Mass for Dominic was held on Monday, Aug. 21, 1944 in the student chapel of Xavier Military High School on West 16th Street in Manhattan. The Mass was attended by many of Dominic’s classmates from Fordham University. The Mass was celebrated by the vice president of Fordham, Fr. Charles Deane, S.J. A letter to Dominic’s parents and family was read at the end of Mass. The letter was written by Bishop John F. O’Hara, C.S.C., of the Archdiocese of the Military Ordinariate. Some excerpts from this fine letter read:

His fellow chaplains had great affection for him, and they admired his courage. He always stood firm on matters of principle … Fr. Dominic’s death, as heroic as it was untimely, will always be enshrined in the grateful memory of the Church, the Franciscan Order and the Nation. R.I.P.

A short time later, the US War Department posthumously awarded Dominic the prestigious Silver Star for his gallantry and courageous ministry to a wounded soldier near Valognes, France. He was the first OFM Franciscan to die in combat and the first-ever Franciscan of the three branches of the First Order to be awarded the Silver Star. After the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor, the Silver Star is the highest military commendation bestowed on a trained member of the United States armed forces. James Doran, Jr., a nephew, provided the citation of the Silver Star awarded to Dominic:

“For gallantry in notion in****, on 19 June 1944, northeast of ****, a battalion commander and four enlisted men, accompanied by Chaplain Ternan, were attacked by a superior enemy force. The bat­talion commander and one of the enlisted men were wounded, and the latter asked Chaplain Ternan to say a prayer for him. With complete disregard for his safe­ty, Chaplain Ternan knelt beside the wounded man and thus engaged when a burst of enemy machine gun struck him in the back, killing him instantly. His bravery and devotion to duty reflected highest credit on himself and upon the military forces of the Unites States.” (reproduced at Fort Jay, New York, 2-27-45)

The image on the left depicts Ternan Hall at Fordham University in late 1945. This barracks-like structure was named for Dominic, who was a member of the class of 1927. Ternan Hall can be seen on the left side of the photo on the right, which was taken in Winter 1950. The building was razed around 1950 to build the present McGinley Athletic Center.

Fordham University Remembrance
On Dec. 14, 1946, Fordham University cel­ebrated a special High Mass for the 7,721 Fordham men who volunteered for U.S. military service in World War II. This was in conjunction with the unveiling of the World War II Memorial in honor of their sacred dead. The overwhelming majority returned home safely. All present expressed their gratitude to God. However, the High Mass also remembered the 228 Fordham men who made the ultimate sacrifice for God and country. All present prayed for the repose of their souls – including Dominic. The theme was “We’ll Sing Our Battle Song.”

Fr. John W. Tynan, S.J., the former Prefect of Discipline, made the necessary Fordham connection to this High Mass during his eulogy:

They are in peace and we are in peace because of them. With their lives they have won it and with our lives we must preserve peace because of them. They carried the Fordham banner un glory through life to death and beside it, they carried the Star Spangled Banner. For all their years of living, they found no rea­son why the two should not go on together. As Ford­ham men, they were followers of Christ, whose love planted in their infant hearts, was nurtured here and flowered on the field of battle. As citizens in the active defense of their country, they lived Christ in camp and aboard ship, the light of eternal life to many who sat in darkness. Christ has more lovers in America today because of their lives and America will be even more dear to the heart of Christ, will be a safe Ameri­ca—a sound America—a good America.

Fordham University mourned their loss and was proud of their achievements. Fordham also remembered Dominic in a unique two-fold way. First, by way of prose in the day of remembrance:

Outstanding among Fordham’s heroes is “Butch” Ternan, as he was known on the diamond. Leonard Ternan or Fr. Dominic, OFM, was the first Fran­ciscan chaplain lost in the war. Father Ternan was attached to a unit of General Omar Bradley’s First Army in Normandy and went to the aid of one of his boys who fell wounded. Turning his back on the Ger­man lines while administering the Last Sacraments to the fallen soldier, he was shot by a Nazi sniper’s bullet and fell over the body of the boy he went to aid. Ter­nan Hall, a classroom building, is named for him.

Second, let the truth be told, according to se­nior archivist, Patrice Kane of Fordham University. Ternan Hall was not a fancy stone building with many floors. Rather it was a barracks/classroom-like structure with a single floor that was quickly put together immediately after World War II. This was in anticipation of more students returning or enrolling in the classrooms. Ternan Hall was located where the present McGinley Center is located. It is estimated to have been built sometime in 1945 and may have lasted until around 1950, when Fordham University began a new building plan to meet the demand of incoming students.

However, after a careful, exhaustive review with the office of the archives and with many Jesuits intimately familiar with Fordham University, a new discovery has been made. This was the first and only time that Fordham University named a building after a Franciscan priest from Holy Name Province or any other Franciscan entity. This was and still is, quite an honor!

Dominic’s final Requiem Mass was celebrated at St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York City on May 17, 1948 with his family present. (New York Daily News photo, May 18, 1948)

Return of the Body to New York City
To reiterate, the overwhelming majority of the bodies of U.S. soldiers killed in France during World War II remain in that sacred ground. However, three years after the war, Holy Name Province decided to trans­fer the body of Dominic from that cemetery in France for interment in the Holy Name Province’s Holy Sepul­chre Cemetery in Paterson, N.J.

When the body was transferred to New York City, a Solemn Requiem Mass was offered at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi on Monday morning, May 17, 1948. The Mass was celebrated by the Provincial Minister, Bertrand Campbell, OFM. Among the many priests present were friars of Holy Name Province (especially fellow World War II chaplains), various chaplains from the Archdiocese of the Military Ordinariate, priests from the Diocese of Brooklyn, and a few Jesuit priests from Fordham University. Most importantly, Dominic’s parents, Ber­nard and Julia Ternan were present, along with his two sisters, Mrs. Dorothy Doran and Mrs. Catherine Crowley. They sat in the front row of the church where Dominic served his first assignment as a Fran­ciscan priest.

With both a police and military escort, his coffin was transferred from St. Francis of Assisi in Manhat­tan to Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Paterson, N.J. Two color guards were part of this procession. The first color guard was from Dominic’s home par­ish, Blessed Sacrament Parish in Cypress Hills, Brook­lyn. The second was composed of the members of the Reserve Officers Training Corps of Fordham Uni­versity, his undergraduate alma mater. After the provincial minister completed the graveside prayers, the flag that covered Dominic’s casket was presented to Dominic’s mother Julia to conclude the ceremony.

Dominic Ternan was a son of the Diocese of Brook­lyn, a fervent Irish-American Catholic and an accom­plished athlete. His name is prominent on the plaque of the World War II veterans in his Blessed Sacrament Parish. He was proudly educated by the Jesuits of the then-New York province in both Brooklyn Prep and Fordham University. As proof, one notes that Dominic Ternan is the only Franciscan on the Fordham Hall of Fame named by the Fordham University Alumni for their distinguished veterans and graduates. He was installed in this prestigious hall in 2008. He was formed, professed and ordained for the Franciscans of Holy Name Province. His first assignment was the well-known spiritual oasis – St. Francis of Assisi Church in Manhattan.

His next assignment was his last – U.S. Army chaplain for 27 months in World War II. The first 25 months were in Army camps in the United States. He was recognized for instructing and receiving more than 150 US soldiers into the Roman Catholic Church as a Franciscan evangelizer. His last two months were in Europe. The first six weeks, he was part of the Allied maneuvers in England preparing for D-Day – the invasion of France. The last two weeks of his life were in France. He survived D-Day, June 6, 1944, on Omaha Beach, where he was a member of the 315th Regiment of the 79th Division of General Omar Bradley’s First Army. Not long after he became the first O.F.M. Franciscan to be killed in battle in World War II on June 19th, 1944 near a bridge outside the town of Cherbourg.

Besides being hailed as a hero for the Diocese of Brooklyn, the Jesuits of the New York Province and the Franciscans of Holy Name Province, Dominic is also remembered on a magnifi­cent monument in Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, D.C. Engraved on the Catholic World War II military chaplains monument are the names of the 70 Roman Catholic priests killed in World War II. Of the 70 chaplains, 30 had Irish surnames – Domi­nic Ternan being one of them. It is fitting to note that Dominic took his solemn vows on the feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis on September 17, 1937. His dead body was in a stigmata-like position after admin­istering last rites to a wounded soldier near Norman­dy, France. May he rest in peace!

Fr. Brian, a Brooklyn native, is a member of Holy Name Province, and chaplain at St. Francis College, Brooklyn, N.Y. Click here to read the bibliography for this article. 

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