La Guardia once said, "When I make a mistake it's a beaut!"
I can relate. As blunders go, it was one of our worst. On
Page 5 of our last issue, in the caption of the photo depicting
the "Fr. O'Callahan Room Dedication," we wrote:
"O'Callahan, a Jesuit priest, Holy Cross professor,
and U.S. Navy chaplain, earned the Congressional Medal of
Honor for service on the USS Franklin during the Vietnam
The phone calls began as soon as the magazine hit the mail
boxes. The letters followed and the e-mail has yet to abate.
Most of the calls were understanding, informative, and, on
occasion, humorous, though I admit I was taken back by the
anonymous alum who shouted, "you should be marched to the
Jesuit cemetery and shot dead!" That was the morning I switched
Rev. Joseph T. O'Callahan, S.J., was certainly all of the
things we listed in our photo caption, but he served on the
USS Franklin during World War II. I am particularly indebted
to Frank J. Dwyer '55, who sent me photocopies of the front
page of the New York Daily Mirror. The headline details the
tragedy of the 832 men who died in an aerial attack 53 miles
off the coast of Kobe, Japan on March 19, 1945. And the paper
features the now-famous photo of Fr. O'Callahan praying over
the body of one of his fallen shipmates.
William J. Duffy '50, one of Fr. O'Callahan's students,
informed us that his former professor "performed many heroic
tasks, including administering to the wounded and the dying,
organizing rescue and fire-fighting parties, leading trapped
shipmates to safety . The Captain of the Franklin (Leslie
E. Gehres) later described Fr. O'Callahan as "the bravest
man I ever saw."
A visit to the Dinand Archives yielded a wonderful six-page
essay on the life of Fr. O'Callahan, written in 1964 by Rev.
Richard J. Dowling, S.J. This tribute provides a fine introduction
to the man now commemorated with a room in Carlin residence
Joseph Timothy O'Callahan was born in Roxbury, Mass., on
May 14, 1905. After attending Boston College High School,
he entered the Society of Jesus at the novitiate of St. Andrew-on-Hudson
in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. He completed his philosophical studies
at Weston College in 1929 and became a member of the physics
department at Boston College. He was ordained a priest on
June 20, 1934.
After serving as a tertian for a year at St. Robert's Hall
in Connecticut, Fr. O'Callahan studied at Georgetown, taught
Cosmology at Weston, and, in 1938, arrived at Holy Cross
to teach mathematics and physics. In 1940, he became head
of the mathematics department and founded a mathematics library.
Soon thereafter, he surprised everyone on the Hill by applying
for a commission as a Navy chaplain. On Aug. 7, 1940, he
was commissioned a lieutenant, junior grade, in the Navy
After serving at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola Fla.,
he reported to the USS Ranger, where, according to Fr. Dowling,
he "ranged the Atlantic from the arctic to the equator," and
played a big part in the invasion of North Africa. But O'Callahan's
great hope was to be assigned to the Philippines. His youngest
sister, Alice, a Maryknoll nun, had been imprisoned in a
Japanese detention camp there. For three years, the O'Callahan
family hadn't heard a word about her fate. Her brother hoped
to discover his sister's circumstance first-hand.
On March 2, 1945, O'Callahan received orders to report for
duty to the USS Franklin, a 27,000 ton Essex-class aircraft
carrier, part of an armada called Task Force 58. Shortly
after dawn the next day, the Franklin steamed out of Pearl
On March 19, at 7:07 a.m., O'Callahan was having breakfast
in the wardroom when out of a cloud bank came a plane, flying
360 miles an hour at a height of 75 feet. The plane dropped
a 500-pound bomb on the center of the flight deck, swung
around and dropped a second bomb on the aft. The ship exploded
into flame. And, according to all reports, in the midst of
the chaos and carnage was Fr. O'Callahan. Wounded by shrapnel
(which earned him a Purple Heart), O'Callahan stayed at his
post for three days and nights, ministering to the dying,
putting out fires, tending the wounded, hosing down armed
bombs, jettisoning live ammunition. As the ship was rocked
time and again by explosions, O'Callahan moved through smoke-filled
corridors, saving life after life and performing extreme
unction over the dying.
The Franklin arrived back at Pearl Harbor, under her own
steam, on April 3, 1945. When asked about his chaplains,
Captain Gehres replied, "Each of those two chaplains were
worth to me any six officers under my command."
On Jan. 23, 1946, in Washington, D.C., President Harry Truman
presented Fr. O'Callahan with the Congressional Medal of
Honor. That night, Chaplain O'Callahan reported to his new
post aboard the carrier USS Franklin D. Roosevelt.
On Nov. 12, 1946, O'Callahan was released from the Navy
with the rank of Captain, U.S.N.C.C. He returned to Holy
Cross to teach philosophy, but a future of much-deserved
peace and study was not to be. In December of 1949, he suffered
the first in a series of strokes.
In 1956, the film Battle Stations, depicting O'Callahan's
heroics aboard the Franklin, was released. Also that year,
he published his best-selling memoir, I Was Chaplain on the
O'Callahan died on March 18, 1964, the eve of the 19th anniversary
of the Franklin's ordeal.
On July 21, 1965, the USS O'Callahan, a destroyer-escort
vessel, was christened in Bay City, Mich. Present at the
ceremony was Sister Rose Marie, O.P., also known as Alice
O'Callahan, Joseph's younger sister, who had survived her
own ordeal in the Philippines.
Holy Cross Magazine regrets our captioning error and we
invite all our alums to visit the O'Callahan Room in Carlin.