This Veterans Day we remember a priest of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, Army chaplain Father Terrence Thomas Brady, who 75 years ago gave his life while ministering to his fellow soldiers. A native of Mt. Sterling who was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop James A. Griffin on April 24, 1938, Father Brady was just 30 years old when he died in World War II.
A notice sent to his fellow priests by Msgr. Michael A. Tarrent, who was chancellor for the diocese, said Father Brady was the first casualty among diocesan priests serving the Armed Forces. The heroic priest’s story was printed over several editions of the Western Catholic, which was at that time the name of the Springfield diocesan newspaper.
Just after he was ordained, Father Brady was appointed assistant at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Jerseyville. While an assistant at the parish, he took an active interest in his parishioners and served as chaplain of the Jerseyville Council of Knights of Columbus. He was spiritual advisor to some of the church groups, directed a study club, and was assistant director of the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) of the Jacksonville deanery.
Father Brady received his commission as First Lieutenant in September 1941, a little more than two months prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7 of that fateful year. At the time of he was commissioned, arrangements were made for him to remain at his parish post until the following May, when a newly-ordained priest could succeed him. However, following the entrance of the United States into war, the need for Army chaplains became so imperative that he secured a release from Bishop Griffin to expedite his entrance into service.
Father Brady left Jerseyville on Jan. 6, 1942, and reported at Camp Shelby in Mississippi, where he received his early training. At the time of his death he had been in overseas service for several months. It was July 22, 1943, during a Japanese artillery barrage that he died a hero’s death in a foxhole on New Georgia Island in the Solomon Islands. In his approximate 18 months in the service, Father Brady had instructed nearly 60 converts.
A few weeks after he was mortally wounded, details about Father Brady’s final hours were shared with the people of the Springfield diocese. This is what Father Ferdinand Evan, Army chaplain, wrote in a letter from the Solomons:
“It was approximately 4 p.m., July 22, 1943. The [Japanese], from a draw below Horseshoe Hill, opened up a heavy and concentrated bombardment of A Company’s area. After the first bombardment, a soldier was found wounded by shrapnel. Father Brady, without regard to his own safety, ran to him giving spiritual inspiration and assisted in administering first aid. As he helped to carry the litter the [Japanese] renewed their concentration of fire. Father Brady fell, severely wounded about the legs and arms. He was taken to a foxhole during a period of quiet.
“Father remained calm and showed no signs of personal interest in himself. He gave all his attention to the men in his vicinity by cautioning them to be careful and to get under cover. In the last and heaviest bombardment, Father Brady continued to pray and intercede for the lives of his men. A direct hit on the foxhole which sheltered Father and his attendants brought death to the wounded priest and one soldier, who was preparing plasma. Two others were fatally wounded and two received minor wounds.
“Father Brady’s last words were the form of General Absolution and a prayer to God for the safety of the men in the medical detachment so that the soldiers who were wounded could receive adequate aid. … I need not tell you that Father Brady was a grand priest; that you know. I can assure you, however, that his sincerity and devotion to duty is now and will always remain a shining example to us, his brother priests in the division.”
During World Wars, burials were handled differently than they are today. For that reason, Father Brady’s remains were buried first in a small jungle plot near the battlefield and then transferred to a picturesque hilltop island cemetery. At that cemetery, Father Giles Webster, OFM, a Navy chaplain, wrote in a letter, “Father Brady was buried in the midst of his boys, as I feel sure he would have wished it. There is no dividing line of officers and enlisted men. Death has made them all equal and as one gazes upon them, he feels glad there has been no artificial separation made.”
Meanwhile in the States, on Aug. 16, 1943, a Memorial Mass was celebrated at St. Francis Xavier Church. At that Mass, Father Henry Schwener delivered the memorial address. “The offering of the Sacrifice of the Mass is the highest tribute and honor that could be paid to Father Brady,” Father Schwener said. “The same Mass that he himself had celebrated in this church, in the Army camps, and on the sands of the Solomon Islands.”
It was almost five years after he passed away that Chaplain Brady’s exhumed casketed remains finally arrived in Mt. Sterling. His remains were first presented to his two aunts, as his parents were deceased. A few days later he laid in state at St. Mary Church with a constant honor guard of the American Legion and a delegation of Knights of Columbus. He was buried following a Pontifical Solemn High Mass of Requiem that was celebrated by Bishop Griffin. Present at the Mass were well over 100 of his fellow diocesan priests, with the Army chaplains in uniform, units of the American Legion, as well as his fellow Knights.
Father Brady was laid in his final resting place in the cemetery at Mt. Sterling. Fittingly, it was just a few days after Independence Day in 1948.
Editor’s note: Language used in quotes was common vernacular of the World War II era. Thanks to the Archives Office for providing historical information.