Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sister Veronica - A Heroic Nun Honored Heroes

My experience with Roman Catholic nuns began in 1958 at Little Flower Grammar School at 80th & Honore on the south side of Chicago. The subsequent eight years were punctuated, to say the least, by lessons in humility. To the say the least, it was a wholly adversarial meeting of hearts and minds. Nonetheless, I received, with the clouts, the odd ear twist, imprecations, maledictions and grudging absolutions, a knowledge of my faith, history, love of the written word and respect for numbers and science, akin to a member of any Papuan Cargo Cultist.

High School and college were a leap of faith and absence of feminine clericalism, having had my secondary and higher education hand-ed off to black cowled Augustinian priests and brothers and ultimately Jesuits. They were magnificent educators and men of Faith.

It was not until my teaching career, that I encountered Sisters of Notre Dame (CNDs) as colleagues. Sisters Theresa Galvan, Maryilyn Doucette, Madeline LaMarre, Helen Kavanaugh, Alice Larson were great teachers and fun girls. It was a revelation to me that nuns could be anything but, to use my Grandfather Hickey's Kerryman appellations Life's Unplucked Flowers, or Hairy Faced Old Galway Bitches. To the contrary, the CNDs were Cultured, Serious, Devout, Orthodox and could work a beer glass and crack a rack of eight ball. Helen Kavanaugh was a proficient slate-woman who pocketed more than a few coins and bills for the Votive Candles from faculty patsies, like your humble servant. We had a Cadillac of a pool table in the Bishop McNamara faculty lounge.

I often pillory nuns here, more shame to me. That is merely a reaction to Activist Nuns, who do anything but their ministries - beat drums, demand ordination as priests, help fund Leftists, work for Planned Parenthood and parse the murder to the unborn.

Here is a portrait from my friend in Philadelphia, lawyer/columnist Christine Flowers who presents the work of Sister Veronica.

Sister Veronica is one of the Might Macs - Sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary - portrayed in the new film of the same name.

THEY SAY there are no atheists in foxholes, even though the nonbelievers have started clamoring for their own "chaplains" anyway (kind of a "Don't Pray, No Hell"). That old proverb sheds light on the way faith and combat are deeply intertwined, on the battlefield as well as in the minds of those who serve both God and country.
So, it's not really surprising that one of the most devoted champions of American heroes wore a uniform of another type: that of the Roman Catholic nun. Sister Veronica, of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, spent five decades whipping her young archdiocesan recruits (girls in plaid kilts, boys in blazers) into shape. When she retired, she moved on to the real thing: combat veterans.

Sister spent the last part of her life, almost two decades, compiling detailed and moving records of the people who received the Medal of Honor, the highest award that our country can bestow on its soldiers. Established in 1861 by Abraham Lincoln, the award was designed to honor exceptional bravery in combat, destined only for those men (and women) who, as Sister noted, "placed their lives in danger while serving in the armed forces, above and beyond the call of duty."

Some of the recipients are legendary, including Audie Murphy, Pappy Boyington and Douglas MacArthur. Others are less well-known even though their heroism was no less compelling. That's where Sister Veronica came in. It was her belief that every combatant who fought, bled, suffered and, in many cases, died for this country deserved to be remembered, and to have a face attached to his or her name. She spent countless hours, from 1970 to 1987, compiling records of these troops as the chief archivist for the Medal of Honor Grove at the Freedoms Foundation, in Valley Forge. She pored over books, articles, microfilms and everything else she could get her hands on to breathe life into the memory of these patriots. For her, as long as they were remembered, they were alive.

Some found it strange that a nun, a woman who had devoted herself to Christ, would choose a second vocation like this one, tied as it was to the horrors of the battlefield. She had an answer for them, one that conjures the image of pacifist Alvin York and Father Francis Duffy, the most decorated cleric in the history of the Army:

"I once spoke with a family that didn't want to accept a posthumous medal because of religious reasons. I told them that I, too, hate war, but I love these men who have made it possible for me to worship my God in a manner of my choosing."

Recently, thanks to the scholarship of Dr. Terry Barrett and the hard work of Vietnam hero Jim Furlong Leo Alumnus Mark Lee, Leo High School re-dedicated the gravesite of Medal of Honor hero Cpl. John Fardy. Leo High School annually observes honors for all who have sacrificed their youth and too often their lives and limbs in military service to America.

On November 4th, Leo High School, the 2nd Batallion, 24th Marines (Chicago's Own), the Leo Alumni and Windy City Veterans will honor all who serve with wreath laying at the Leo War Memorial. 2004 Leo Graduate Sgt. Jauwan Hall, U.S.M.C. will talk about his recent service in Iraq and Afghanistan. All are invited to join us in the courtyard of Leo High School at

Leo High School - 7901 S. Sangamon Street Chicago, Illinois 60620 -at 11AM on Friday November 4th.

I will remember Sister Veronica, as well as all of the wonderful women who serve Christ and Country.

I'll even put my Irish Alzheimer's on hold and remember my antagonists (1958-1966) with charity and love.


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