November 11, 2018
BY TONI CASHNELLI
Nov. 11 was the 100th anniversary of the Armistice ending World War I.On Jan. 24, 1918, friar Placid Herbert Doyle wrote a letter that changed the course of his life.
In the three-page letter, neatly typed and addressed to “Very Rev. Father Provincial,” he made his case for becoming a chaplain in the war that raged across the Atlantic.
With the approval of Rudolph Bonner, Provincial Minister of St. John the Baptist Province, Placid’s wish was granted – with tragic consequences. But 100 years later, his story and his sacrifice are largely forgotten, the sum of his life reduced to six lines in the province Necrology.
Placid was one of three SJB priests who laid their lives on the line to serve American soldiers in the First World War. Erasmus (Daniel) Dooley, a native of Calumet, Mich., and Benjamin (Joseph) Oehler, a native Cincinnatian, both volunteered as chaplains, and both saw service overseas.
Placid H. Doyle, OFM
For priests like Placid, the war hit close to home. President Woodrow Wilson had kept America out of the conflict in Europe for three years. But Canada, a member of the British Empire, entered the war along with England in 1914. Stationed in Ontario, Placid had plenty of exposure to returning soldiers and those who ministered to them in the trenches along the Western Front in France.
A photo believed to be of Placid and his family in Chatham, Ontario.foro interno
He asked permission to join the military and assist the troops. “I would consider it the greatest thing in my life, dear Father, if I could go and aid them Ordained in 1915in their last moments. And I should deem it the greatest privilege were I to die in the attempt.”
The plan: He would enlist as a chaplain in the American Army. By April 1918, Placid had applied for U.S. citizenship, necessary for receiving a commission. He explained to Rudolph: “When I took out my citizenship papers, I had to use the name I had when I entered this country, ‘Herbert P.’ instead of ‘Placid H.’”
While waiting for the war – and his papers – he served as a Knights of Columbus Army Chaplain on Paris Island, S.C. On July 15 Placid wrote to Rudolph: “I am awaiting word from Washington and hope to receive it within the next three weeks.” He was “almost jealous” to hear that Erasmus had been deployed, and “I suppose Fr. Benjamin will be going soon.”
Placid in uniform
By Aug. 8, Placid had his marching orders, an overseas assignment as a First Lieutenant in the Chaplain Corps. “When you read these few lines,” he wrote to Rudolph, “I shall be far out on the high seas. I am glad to go over, as Bishop Hayes told me the boys in the hospitals over there are crying for priests.”
Arriving in France he was assigned to the 90th Infantry Division and wrote home Sept. 18 that he had joined the troops at the front. “Now we are right in the centre of the big drive, of which you have read. I am well up on the front, my bunking place, a barracks, being only one mile from ‘No Man’s Land’”, the swath of destruction between trenches. “I have not heard from Fr. Erasmus or Fr. Benjamin.”
Placid often said Mass in the woods or in the trenches, explaining that many churches “are one heap of ruins…I have seen several enemy airplanes come, but I have also seen them go. Yesterday one dropped some gas bombs about a mile from a village church which I had just entered.”
“Surely, war is all Sherman said it was, but there is a lot he didn’t say. ‘Terrible’ is no word for it.”
Placid signed off with a request: “If possible, please send me the St. Anthony Messenger.”
It was the last time Rudolph would hear from him. Two weeks later, 30-year-old Placid fell ill. He sought treatment at Base Hospital No. 3, a Carthusian monastery operated as a medical facility by Mt. Sinai Hospital of New York City.
Weeks later, a letter written in pencil arrived at the Motherhouse in Cincinnati. Addressed to “Rev. Many towns like this one were utterly destroyed.and Dear Father”, it contained grim news from Fr. Joseph McQuaide, a Chaplain at Base Hospital No. 3 in Vauclaire, near Montpont, France.
“I am writing to apprise you of the death and the last days of Father Doyle, a U.S. Army chaplain who hails, as he told me, from St. Francis Church, Cincinnati…My purpose in writing is to solace his friends at home by the knowledge that Father Doyle died bravely and fortified with the rites of his holy religion…
“He came here about a week ago in sore plight. Pneumonia had a deadly grip on him. …The doctor and nurses did apparently everything within their power to pull him through.” After rallying briefly, “he passed away peacefully” the morning of Saturday, Oct. 5. “Fr. Doyle sacrificed his life by undertaking a work for the spiritual good of others. Therein lies his glory as well as his crown.”
PHOTO FROM American Battle Monuments CommissionSuresnes American Cemetery outside Paris, where Placid H. Doyle was laid to rest.
On Nov. 19, 1918, a memorial service was held at Placid’s home parish in Chatham, Ontario. The Chatham Daily Planet reported the cause of death as influenza “which, developing into pneumonia, proved fatal, to the great regret of many friends.” It was the same virulent strain of “Spanish Flu” that decimated the ranks of fighting men and killed millions around the world.
Placid was buried at Suresnes American Cemetery and Memorial on Mt. Valerien, five miles from Paris, along with 1,540 other soldiers who died in World War I. His marker in Plot A, Row 13, Grave 11 reads: “Herbert P. Doyle, 1st Lt. Chaplain 90th Div.”
On a clear day, from the hilltop where he was laid to rest, you can see the Eiffel Tower.
Benjamin Oehler, OFMTwo other SJB friars served their country overseas during World War I Ð but you won’t find their names in the provincial Necrology. For both men, the experience was life-changing.
Cincinnatian Benjamin (Joseph) Oehler, ordained in 1914, was a U.S. chaplain in France and Germany from March 1918 to August 1919. Not much is known about his work, although records in the Provincial Archives indicate he ministered at an evacuation hospital after the war. Benjamin’s service was commended by a superior in a 1920 letter to Provincial Rudolph Bonner: “He has been indefatigable in his labors on behalf of those entrusted to his care, and I have been delighted indeed to have him in our service.” Benjamin left the Franciscan Order in May 1928, returned and served briefly in Calumet, Mich., then left in August 1930 and married in May 1931. No information about his later years is available.
Erasmus Dooley, OFMErasmus (Daniel) Dooley
(Thanks to Archivist Ron Cooper and Sr. Daria Mitchell for their help in researching our World War I stories.)
Placid Melvin Doyle, OFMThe name Placid Doyle is familiar to many friars but the Placid they knew was a teacher at St. Francis Seminary in Cincinnati. His Necrology biography says that Placid Melvin Doyle, born in Chatham, Ontario, in 1911, was the nephew of Chaplain Placid Herbert Doyle, born in 1888. But according to Peggy O’Rourke of Chatham, the family historian, Placid M. was the second cousin of Placid H. (She is, by the way, the second cousin once removed of Placid M.)
Placid M., a friar for 38 years, taught at Roger Bacon for one year before transferring to Duns Scotus. In 1953 he was assigned to the Seminary, where “he was principally an English teacher,” says former student Dan Kroger. Placid retired to Duns Scotus College in 1966 and died in 1968. According to the Necrology, “His name, Placid, well characterized him, since he refused to become ruffled over anything or anybody.”
BY TONI CASHNELLI
Bremen became Republic Street.It has been called “the forgotten war”.
Much of what happened in World War I has faded from memory, distanced by time and the deaths of everyone associated with the deadliest conflict humanity had ever seen. Nov. 11 marked the 100th anniversary of the 1918 Armistice silencing the guns of “the war to end all wars”.
Aside from its human toll – the deaths of 16 million soldiers and civilians – the war sowed the seeds for future conflict when the vanquished Germany was left in shambles. And it left its mark on the Franciscan friars who had made it their mission to serve the German community in Cincinnati.
The impact was “major”, says Dan Kroger.Pat McCloskeyGod Gives His Grace: A Short History of St. John the Baptist Province
They were among the millions affected when America entered the war in April of 1917 and anti-German hysteria swept the country.
Asked to describe the war’s impact on friars, “I would say it was major,” says Dan Kroger, Publisher/CEO of Franciscan Media and the grandson (paternal) and great-grandson (maternal) of immigrants from Germany. Anti-German sentiment was keenly felt in cities like Cincinnati, where more than half the residents were German-American. Their customs, language, music and literature were targeted by smear campaigns and laws of suppression. As reported in the PBS American Experience documentary, The Great War, “It was a wholesale destruction of an ethnic culture in the United States.”
1917 Cincinnati Post cartoonWhile Allies were fighting on the battlefields of France, another war was waged in the United States – a war against all things German.
Before 1917, “Some parish groups were geared to German speakers and others to English speakers,” Pat says. “German-speaking groups quickly ceased to exist once the U.S. entered the war.” The Espionage Act of 1917, intended to enhance national defense, was used to curtail freedom of speech and justify intimidation.
“By Fall of 1917 public reason had begun to abdicate to the absurd in anti-German suspicions, though the press still tried to retain some balance in its position,” says G.A. Dobbert in his dissertation on “The Cincinnati Germans: 1870-1920” (University of Chicago, 1965). “By year’s end, hysteria was mounting, and attacks were launched on all visible aspects of German culture in the city.”
President Woodrow Wilson criticized “hyphenated Americans,” and Cincinnati quickly joined his propaganda campaign. When the Board of Education banned the teaching of German in elementary schools, Franciscans had no choice but to follow. Even the friars’ internal correspondence was affected. On file in the Archives, the last letter written to the province in German from Provincial Minister Rudolph Bonner is dated April 1917.
The last issue of St. Franziskus Bote.Ohio passed laws prohibiting the use of foreign languages in public places, including at religious services, or on the telephone. Days after the U.S. declared war on the Central Powers – the German, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires and the Kingdom of Bulgaria – “The public library moved their 10,000 German books to the subbasement,” according to The Cincinnati Enquirer.
“It must have been a bitter pill for many friars to see their mother tongue demonized and banned, formally or informally, from use in preaching, writing and elsewhere,” says Pat.
A plaque in Cincinnati details anti-German hysteria.German names for parks and statues were changed. Signs for 13 streets in Cincinnati disappeared, replaced by more “patriotic” names: “German Street” became “English”. “Bremen Street”, next to St. Francis Seraph Church, was re-named “Republic”.
Were there other repercussions? “I’m sure there must have been,” says Dan, but no mention is made in the archived writings of Rudolph Bonner. Notable for the province was the cessation of their respected periodical, St. Franziskus Bote, a German-language devotional that preceded St. Anthony Messenger. Edited by Ambrose Sanning, who also edited SAM, it was published by friars starting in 1892. The last issue in bound volumes at the Archives is dated June 1917.
It stands as a testament to a time when America was at war with the world – and its own people.
Could it happen again? That’s the question the world is asking as it observes another grim anniversary. One hundred years ago in the fall of 1918, the first U.S. cases of an epidemic that would kill at least 20 million globally were reported at an Army camp in Kansas. The strain of influenza known as “Spanish Flu”, especially virulent among troops fighting in and returning from the battlefields of World War I, spread like wildfire.
A streetcar sign in Cincinnati during the epidemicSo little was known about this mysterious virus that public health officials were powerless to stop it. Oct. 5, 1918, after 4,000 cases were reported in Cincinnati, they decreed that “all schools (public, private and parochial), theaters, movie houses, churches and Sunday schools” would be closed, and “all public or private meetings either indoors or outdoors were prohibited.”
During an 18-month outbreak, an estimated 80,000 Cincinnatians contracted the flu; more than 2,200 died of the virus and the pneumonia which followed on its heels. Friars were not immune. “In February 1919, [Rudolph] Bonner wrote to Rome that influenza had killed seven priests in six months,” Pat McCloskey reported in the 1994 edition of the province history, God Gives His Grace. “Brother Alexius Orth died a few days later, the only brother to die of influenza during that epidemic.”
Friar Chaplain Placid Herbert Doyle, who died serving the troops in France, was among its first victims.
(Sources: The Influenza Encyclopedia, University of Michigan Center for the History of Medicine; and Cincinnati Magazine, Sept. 24, 2018)
It was a prayer, a promise, a talisman. And it remains a living tribute to the fallen soldiers of World War I.
The St. John Passion Play, presented annually in Cincinnati for the past 101 years, was mounted by Franciscan Pastor Richard Wurth in sadness for the loss of eight parishioners in the war and as a petition to God for the protection of other young men of St. John the Baptist Parish in Over-the-Rhine.
Richard Wurth, OFM“He remembered how the wood-carving peasants of Oberammergau in the Bavarian Alps had escaped the Black Death in the 17th century by vowing to produce a Passion Play every ten years in thanksgiving,” according to http://stjohnpassionplay.org/ In 1917 Richard enlisted his flock in staging Veronica’s Veil, written by Passionist priest Bernardine Dusch, a play centered on the passion and death of Christ. “After the third and final performance, he called all of the actors together backstage. Realizing there had been no more battle-related casualties, they joined hands in thanksgiving and solemnly pledged to present a passion play annually thereafter for the continued protection of those serving in the war.”
For 54 years friars at St. John’s and nearby St. Francis Seraph directed, produced and promoted the play. When it was threatened with demise, the cast and crew banded together to continue the tradition, presenting the St. John Passion Play each year since then at numerous churches and auditoriums throughout greater Cincinnati. Since 1917, Richard Wurth’s promise has not been broken.
Those who served
In World War I, PTSD had not yet been diagnosed.Everyone has a story. Maybe a couple. If you think back over your own life, you start to realize the many events and people and choices that have led you to today, this moment, your unique character. While the choices are honest and true, they are made in a context that is totally out of our control: the family in which we were born, the specific issues, strife and comfort that is unique to our time. The building of our character is honed on the rocks of our particularity. Duns Scotus called it “thisness” or haecceity. No human that ever existed did so facing your exceptional circumstances. We truly are more particular than snowflakes!
In this issue of News Notes, we look back to the brutal history of World War I, “the war to end all wars”, in which three of our friars were involved. We celebrate their sacred stories and honor their memory from the vantage point of the Veterans’ Day we just commemorated. Their involvement in this war changed their lives. We can wonder what it was like to experience an actual war in a time before we were able to diagnose Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The best we could do at the time of the Second World War was to call it “shell shock”. Again, we honor the memories of those who served.
What will we do with our “one wild and precious life”, as Mary Oliver describes it? Our attentiveness, self-sacrifice, contemplation, little choices of love, our sobriety, our care of a single brother, our mistakes – all of these can become our teachers. By honoring the memories of these brothers, we look at our own story with wonder, a bit of humor and the opportunity that this day brings to draw closer to God through our Franciscan way of life.
– Mark Soehner, OFM
Reduce the risk of shingles
PHOTO BY Shutterstck.comShingles, which is also called herpes zoster, is a painful skin rash with blisters. It is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. After you get chickenpox, the virus will stay in your body and can cause shingles later in life.
Two vaccines are available to help reduce the risk of shingles. If you have never had chickenpox and are younger than 60, you can get the varicella vaccine (chickenpox vaccine). It does not guarantee you won’t get chickenpox or shingles, but it can reduce the severity of the disease. Those 50 and over can instead receive two doses of the shingles vaccine (Zostavax), whether or not they recall having chickenpox.
Like the chickenpox vaccine, the shingles vaccine doesn’t guarantee you won’t get shingles. But if you do get shingles, the vaccine will likely reduce the course and severity of the disease and reduce your risk of post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN). Even if you’ve had shingles before, the vaccine can help prevent another occurrence of the disease. The shingles vaccine is intended as a preventive strategy, not as a treatment for people who have the disease.
The new recombinant shingles vaccine was approved by the FDA in 2017 and was more than 90% effective in preventing shingles in clinical trials. Two doses, two to six months apart, are recommended for adults 50 and older. This vaccine is also recommended for people who have already gotten the live shingles vaccine (Zostavax) in the past. There is no live virus in this vaccine. You can get the vaccine at your primary doctor’s office or your local pharmacy. And don’t forget your annual flu vaccine as well. It is that time of year!
Your Province Nurse,
Michelle Viacava, RN
Is it contagious?
You cannot catch shingles from another person; however, a person who never had chickenpox or the vaccine for chickenpox could get chickenpox from someone with shingles. The rash usually appears on the side of the body or face and heals within two to four weeks. The main symptom is pain that can be severe. Some other symptoms are fever, headache, chills, and upset stomach. Rarely will a shingles infection lead to pneumonia, hearing problems, blindness, encephalitis, or death.
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Placid H. Doyle, OFMBut Placid’s story, pieced together from online research and from files in the Provincial Archives, is particularly poignant. A native of Chatham, Ontario, he was ordained in 1915 and appointed a professor at St. Francis Seraphic Seminary in Over-the-Rhine. In 1916 he became assistant pastor at his home parish of St. Joseph’s in Chatham – a dream come true.
A photo believed to be of Placid and his family in Chatham, Ontario.As he wrote to Rudolph, “We Fathers here have first-hand information from our own boys who have returned cripples, that there is a terrible dearth of Catholic chaplains in the Canadian and English armies at the front. …A returned soldier told me in foro interno, that he actually had no chance to hear Mass or see a priest where he was fighting for almost a YEAR! …It truly strikes one to the quick and fills one with the desire to be willing to do something for the spiritual relief of our poor boys who are being called upon every minute to appear before their Judge.”
PHOTO FROM American Battle Monuments CommissionSuresnes American Cemetery outside Paris, where Placid H. Doyle was laid to rest.He died five weeks before the Armistice that ended the slaughter.
The impact was “major”, says Dan Kroger.“Most of the parishes and chaplaincies where we served before World War I ended had a majority of people with German surnames,” says Pat McCloskey, author of God Gives His Grace: A Short History of St. John the Baptist Province (1994, 2001). “Most SJBP friars alive when the war ended had German surnames.”