Heroic WWII Chaplain Remembered 75 Years Later

Maria Hayes Friar News

Tiernan Mass celebrants

From left to right: Jack Raslowsky, Brian Jordan, OFM, Joseph Ceriello, Andrew Reitz, OFM, Daniel Gatti, SJ, and Kevin Mullen, OFM, with the plaque that was blessed during Dominic’s Memorial Mass. (Photo courtesy of Maria Hayes)

NEW YORK — Before the 5:30 p.m. Mass on June 19 at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, few people were familiar with the story of the late Dominic Ternan, OFM. Out of all of the living Holy Name Province friars, none had been received into the Order when Dominic died on the battlefields of France on June 19, 1944, shot by a Nazi sniper while he ministered to a wounded soldier 13 days after D-Day.

But his memory lived on during the recent Memorial Mass, offered 75 years after his death, at the church where he served prior to joining the U.S. Army. A plaque bearing his name, his story, and a replica of his Silver Star Medal – the first to be presented to a Franciscan friar – was blessed and dedicated before the congregation, and it will hang in St. Francis Church to tell his story to all who pass by in the future.

The display about Dominic Ternan at the Mass. (Photo courtesy of Maria Hayes)

“As a parish, as a province, as an Order, and as a city, we’re so proud of our brother Dominic and the sacrifice that he gave,” said Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen, OFM, the principal celebrant. “We are a community of memory. It is very important to remember those who came before us, those who sacrificed for us, and those who gave their lives so that we could live. We can never forget that.”

Before the Mass began, the U.S. Army color guard of the “Fighting 69th” Infantry Regiment of New York State presented the colors. Dominic had visited with the regiment before being deployed to Europe in 1944.

Each concelebrant had a connection with some aspect of Dominic’s life. Brian Jordan, OFM, who gave the homily, is also a son of Brooklyn, and he was part of Dominic’s childhood parish, Blessed Sacrament in Cypress Hills. Andrew Reitz, OFM, serves as pastor of the Church of St. Francis of Assisi. Fr. Daniel Gatti, SJ, is chaplain of the Fordham University Alumni Association, where Dominic earned his bachelor’s degree. Fr. Joseph Ceriello, pastor of Queen of All Saints in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, and a former U.S. Navy chaplain, represented Dominic’s home diocese. Also participating in the Mass was lector Jack Raslowsky, president of Xavier High School in Manhattan. Xavier High School houses the records of Brooklyn Prep, the now-defunct high school from which Dominic graduated.

In his homily, Brian spoke of how the borough of Brooklyn shaped Dominic’s upbringing. Growing up Catholic in Brooklyn, he said, meant that you grew up in a community that was an embodiment of the three “P”s – prayerful, patriotic, and principled. These values may have planted the seeds of Dominic’s vocation later in life. They certainly served him well as a Catholic Army chaplain who would come to be well respected by the soldiers he served.

Those who attended the Mass were moved by the story of this ordinary man from Brooklyn who selflessly gave his life in service to his fellow man. At its conclusion, Kevin encouraged the faithful to “go forward and try to pass on the goodness of this day to the people we meet on the streets of our city.”

Fr. Dominic’s Life and Ministry
Dominic was born into an Irish Catholic family on Nov. 8, 1902, in Brooklyn, and baptized with the name Leonard. He attended Brooklyn Prep, the prestigious Jesuit high school located in the nearby neighborhood of Crown Heights, and was a member of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Cypress Hills. An athlete, he became a well-known figure on the local baseball and football fields.

In 1923, he began studying at Fordham University in the Bronx, N.Y., as a member of what was then the largest freshman class in Fordham’s history. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1927 and joining the New York Telephone Company in their Bronx field office. During this time, he began discerning a call to religious life, eventually deciding to join the Franciscan Order.

He was received into the novitiate on Aug. 26, 1933, at St. Bonaventure Friary in Paterson, N.J., and given the name Dominic. He professed simple vows on Aug. 27, 1934, and made his solemn profession on Sept. 17, 1937, the feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis of Assisi. Within two weeks, he was ordained to the priesthood. He celebrated his First Mass at his home parish of Blessed Sacrament in October 1937.

His first assignment was to the Church of St. Francis of Assisi on West 31st Street in New York City, where he celebrated Mass, heard confessions, and served as a substitute chaplain in nearby hospitals. After five years, he was given permission to join the U.S. Army Chaplains Corps and he conducted his training at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indiana.

The first 25 months of his service were spent at three U.S. Army camps in the United States. During that time, he offered counsel and the sacraments, and helped welcome more than 150 U.S. soldiers into the Catholic Church.

In May 1944, his unit was deployed to Great Britain as part of General Omar Bradley’s First Army in the 79th Division and attached to its 315th Regiment. He was one of the thousands of soldiers who landed on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, where he cared for the wounded and prayed for the dead.

Thirteen days after D-Day, Dominic’s 315th Army Regiment was ordered to move inland and seize territory for the Allies. They faced heavy resistance from the Germans as they attempted to take the town of Cherbourg. On June 19, 1944, Dominic stopped to minister to a wounded sergeant near the village of Valognes. As he was praying for the soldier, a German sniper shot him in the back. He was the first American OFM Franciscan to be killed in the line of duty during World War II.

He was initially buried in a cemetery in Chateau Sevigny, France, and three Masses were said for the repose of his soul – one at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, one at his home parish in Cypress Hills, and one at his alma mater, Fordham University. A short time later, the U.S. War Department posthumously awarded him with the Silver Star Medal for his gallantry and courageous ministry to the wounded soldier. After the conclusion of World War II, Dominic’s body was transferred in 1948 from France to Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Paterson, where he rests today.

Maria Hayes is director of marketing for Holy Name Province.

Editor’s note: The biographical information used in this article was taken from “A Heroic World War II Religious Order Chaplain, Brooklyn Born and Bred,” written by Brian Jordan and published in HNP Today on Nov. 8, 2017.