Franciscan Paratrooper

Father Ignatius Maternowski

For love of Him they ought to expose themselves to enemies both visible and invisible.

Saint Francis of Assisi

Ignatius Maternowski entered this Vale of Tears on March 28, 1912, in Holyoke, Massachusetts, the son of Polish immigrants  He attended, appropriately enough, Saint Francis High School.  Impressed by the Franciscans he encountered there, he decided to become a Franciscan priest.  He was ordained to the priesthood on July 3, 1938.  His gift for preaching manifesting itself, he was assigned as a missionary-preacher at the friary of Saint Anthony of Padua in Elicott City, Maryland.

From the time of Pearl Harbor he sought permission to serve as a chaplain and in July 1942 he enlisted in the Army.  He served as a chaplain in the 508th regiment of the 82nd Airborne.  In the aftermath of the chaotic combat drop into Normandy on the night before D-Day, Captain Maternowski busied himself in tending both American and German wounded.

Realizing that some sort of facility would be needed to treat all of the wounded, the chaplain walked into enemy lines and discussed setting up with a no doubt bemused German Wehrmacht doctor some sort of joint aid station to care for the wounded of both sides.  Crossing back into American lines, he was shot in the back and killed by a German sniper.  Being killed while seeking to aid the helpless is about the best way I can think of for a Franciscan to die.   Father Maternowksi was the only Allied chaplain to die on D-Day.


More to explorer


  1. Mater Dolorosa Cemetery has two beautiful circles in the roadways. One is where Fr. Maternowski’s memorial stone is set with many other Friars, and can be seen on the video. The other is reserved for an exceptionally beautiful statue of our Blessed Mother. Mater Dolorosa Parish church was closed three years ago after the Corpus Christi procession around the Church in my hometown. A striking circular rainbow appeared around the sun at around noon when the procession was just returning to the front of the church marking the day for memories. The building has stained glass windows which depict, on one side, the joyful and glorious mysteries beginning with the visit by Gabriel and, on the gospel side, the sorrowful mysteries beginning with the prophecy of Simeon. It is my fondest hope that these are preserved in a way that proclaims the faith to many more people. I understand that these helped working people who couldn’t read to learn the faith.

  2. We will never know if the German sniper knew he was shooting a priest in the back–nor if the sniper was ordered to do it at that exact moment.

  3. This is another great WWII story I was unaware of.

    One great thing about the United States of America is that people can come from anywhere and become Americans.

    Fr. Maternowski was just such a great American, a martyr for the Faith – and a brave man of Polish descent.

  4. Thank you for posting this story with the video. Our service members need military chaplains, especialy those servicemen in harms way. I worry in this political climate that the chaplain corps will be disestablished.

  5. Cam: “I worry in this political climate that the chaplain corps will be disestablished.”
    “or prohibit the free exercise thereof.” The First Amendment. Government, the state, cannot interfer with or burden the free exercise of religion by refusing funding for chaplains, especially while chaplains are necessary to minister to troops in harms way. During the government shut down Obama refused to allow chaplains to say Mass on the military bases. Obama behaved as though He owned the chaplains and the men. Obama does not even own the military bases nor does Obama own the government, although he like to believe that he does. The government is constituted by the people. When government becomes predatory it must be replaced.
    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” from The Declaration of Independence.
    Shooting a chaplain in the back. That is all the Nazis were good for.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: