from T.P.'s Journal of Great Deeds, May 15, 1915
'Crusaders And Cuirassiers'
France's Twenty Thousand Fighting Priests


Priests on the Firing Line

giving aid to a wounded soldier


Yesterday in France it was the crucifix; to-day it is the sword. Yesterday there was peace in the vineyards and harvest; to-day there is War and another kind of harvest, and in the "gathering-in " time a new kind of soldier is playing his part — the priests who from the countless corners of the world have come to lay their lives, if needs be, at the shrine of the France they love. The cloth habit has given place to the uniform of the tirailleur, the cowl to the steel helmet of the cuirassier. From the quiet places of the world these once peaceful ministers of God have come, twenty thousand of them.

20,000 Men in the Fighting Line

The story of this rally will go down to posterity; the deeds will go down to the everlasting glory of France. Twenty thousand horse and foot from Ypres to the last mile that links Alsace to Switzerland. Men of God in the trenches and the dugouts, fighting, dying valorously; healing and helping quietly.

Here is but one instance. In the retreat to the Marne a sergeant priest, who, no doubt, before the War was quietly shepherding his flock, was holding a trench with two men, on which a fearful hail of rifle and machine-gun bullets was pouring. The sergeant ordered the two privates to evacuate the trench, and to join in attacking the enemy with the bayonet. The men refused, saying it was certain death to dare such an act. Thereupon the priest alone leaped from the trench, and in a minute had been struck by several bullets, one near the heart, one that caused him to fall; but, fortunately, he was dragged back into the trench, to be afterwards rescued, and now he is alive.

A New Hero

In reading the long story of the heroism of France's priests in the present War, one is struck by this fact coming so appropriately with a lively revival of religious sentiment in the land. The priest-soldier is a new type of hero — the product of the War of 1914, a figure that France will consecrate and, it is hoped, immortalise. In the firing line and in the depots are clerics of all denominations, from the simple curé to the bishop One, Abbé Dutreuil, came from far Morocco with France's Colonial troops. From the United States; from South America, from China and Japan, from Canada and India they came — Jesuits, Dominicans, Franciscans, Trappists, and Eudists — weeping with joy as their feet touched the native soil they had come to protect. What a rally, what a record!

No less than four bishops are fighting for La Patrie — Monseigneur Rucfi, coadjutor of the Bishop of Nancy; Monseigneur Terrien, Apostolic-Vicar of Benin, who, when the mobilisation at Dakkar took place, rallied at once to the colours, as did his brothers from Siam and the Ivory Coast — Monseigneurs Perros and Moury, the former now a sub-lieutenant of infantry.

Five Weeks — 219 Crosses of the Legion

Facts such as these fill one with astonishment when one looks back on the religious strife that seemed to be sapping all the spirituality of France. What an awakening from so false a conception, an awakening to read of the glories that these sons of the Church have won for themselves and for their land, bringing with their laurels a sure foundation for the future welfare of the Church of France ! No list of those who have fallen on the field of honour, no Order for the Day has been published without the names of one or more ecclesiastic being recorded. After five weeks alone of War no less than 219 priests had won the Legion of Honour; whilst double that number had been proposed for the coveted Military Medal.

"The Greatest Courage and the Greatest Devotion"

Cases of individual heroism are too numerous to be mentioned, but some there are whose story is too grand to be passed by. Abbé Tessier, priest of the Seventh Division, won a Military Medal "for having saved four persons during the inundation at Mamers," as well as "giving proofs on many occasions of the greatest courage and the greatest devotion on the field of battle." Abbé Tessier was wounded in the left arm by a shell splinter, but, nevertheless, continued to carry on his duties, and insisted on resuming them the next day.

In an Inferno

It was a fellow priest, Abbé Le Gall, who, on December 17th and 18th, distinguished himself by going out under the enemy's fire to bring in dead and wounded who had fallen before La Boiselle. Finally can be mentioned Pere de Ganay, of the Society of Jesus, who was decorated for fine conduct at Languemarck in recovering wounded under heavy artillery fire. This gallant gentleman shepherded his wounded together under fire of high-velocity shells and spitting mitrailleuse, and safely withdrew his charges from a quickly disappearing village.

Their Sacrifice

As evidence of the heroism of these new soldiers of France, it is said that the loss in priests is enormous in comparison with their total number. Fearless in the face of fire, taking risks where others would not, clear-eyed and courageous in the sight of death, they have sacrificed not only their ideals and their beliefs, but their lives for the sake of France.


celebrating mass near the trenches


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