Francis P. Duffy : biography
During this period, Duffy was active in both the Catholic Summer School, a sort of adult summer camp and continuing education system that foreshadowed the explosion in Catholic higher education for the laity today, and in the military – he was regimental chaplain to the 69th New York, which was federalized for a time during the Spanish-American War.
Service as an Army chaplain
Already well known in theological circles, Duffy gained wider fame for his involvement as a military chaplain during World War I, when the 69th New York ("The Fighting 69th") was federalized again and redesignated the 165th U.S. Infantry Regiment. When the unit moved up to the front in France, Duffy accompanied the litter bearers in recovering the wounded and was frequently seen in the thick of battle. Recognized by the regimental commander, Lieutenant Colonel William "Wild Bill" Donovan – who would go on to found the OSS in World War II) – as a key element in the unit’s morale, Duffy’s role in the unit went beyond that of a normal cleric: the regiment was composed primarily of first- and second-generation Irish immigrants from New York City, many of whom wrote later about Duffy’s leadership. Brigadier General Douglas MacArthur admitted later that Duffy was very briefly considered for the post of regimental commander.
For his actions in the war, Duffy was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Distinguished Service Medal, the Conspicuous Service Cross (New York State), the Légion d’honneur (France), and the Croix de guerre. Father Duffy is the most highly decorated cleric in the history of the U.S. Army.
Following the war he wrote Father Duffy’s Story,George H. Doran Company, New York 1919 which grew out of a manuscript originally started by Joyce Kilmer, the poet and convert to Catholicism who had joined the regiment and had become a close friend to Duffy. When Kilmer was killed in France, he was working on a history of the regiment’s involvement in the war, which Duffy intended to continue, but Duffy was prevailed upon to include his own reminiscences.
Holy Cross Church
Duffy then served as a pastor of Holy Cross Church in Hell’s Kitchen, a block from Times Square, until his death. While there, he had one last opportunity to make a contribution to Catholic thought: in 1927, during Al Smith’s campaign for president, the Atlantic Monthly published a letter by Charles C. Marshall, a Protestant lawyer, which questioned whether a Catholic could serve as a loyal president who would put the nation and the Constitution before his allegiance to the Pope, a common thread in American anti-Catholicism. Smith was given a chance to reply: his article, which was ghost-written by Duffy, was a classic statement of the intellectual ideas behind American Catholic patriotism. It hinted at notions of religious freedom and freedom of conscience which would not be spelled out by the Church itself until the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom in the 1960s.
Duffy died on June 27, 1932, in New York City.
Beloved Chaplain of Fighting 69th Dies. New York, June 27 – The spirit of Father Francis Patrick Duffy, beloved chaplain of the ‘Fighting Sixty-Ninth’ of the wartime Rainbow Division, has rejoined the thousands of men who died on the battlefields of France where he served them. The present colonel of his old regiment was at the bedside until near the end. Others through the nation and especially in New York, home of the old Sixty-Ninth, known in war days as the 165th Infantry, mourned the chaplain who died at the age of 62. Father Duffy will have a military burial. The old Sixty-Ninth will attend the services of America’s wars, msgr. John P. Chidwick, chaplain of the Battleship Maine when it was blown up in Havana Harbor, will preach the funeral sermon. Death came to Father Duffy early yesterday after an illness of three months from an intestinal infection. Hundreds of friends of all faiths had flooded the mails with letters of concern and hope for his recovery. The Irish chaplain of an Irish regiment won fame and decorations from his own and the French governments for his devotion to his men under fire during the World War. His death led General Douglas MacArthur, chief of staff in Washington and war-time commander of the Rainbow (42nd) Division, to reveal he had recommended the priest for command of the 165th Regiment at one time when the division was in the midst of an offensive."Beloved Chaplain of Fighting 69th Dies". The Chronicle-Telegram. June 27, 1932, p 4, column 4. Also, majority of New York newspapers such as the Syracuse Herald gave Father Francis P. Duffy front page headlines Monday morning, June 27, 1932, that read "Father Duffy, Fighting 69th Chaplain, Dies. Military Honors Will Mark Funeral for Beloved Priest. Was Ill for 3 Months. General MacArthur Reveals He Recommended Priest to Lead Troops."