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A Place to Belong

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Lessons from Gettysburg, the Fighting Irish, and Memorial Day

by Sal Valeriano

This past St. Patrick’s Day, I did not partake in the typical revelry associated with the feast of Ireland’s (and engineering’s) patron, as the annual ROTC staff ride called me to the fields and farms of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in search of another Irishman. The Gettysburg battlefield is littered with cannons, monuments, statues, and plaques, marking one unit’s movement from this hill to that hill, interpreting the conflict and causes for modern visitors, and paying mute testimony to the sacrifice and suffering that took place here “four score” and seventy-five years ago. One marker here stands out from the rest— a priest, standing on a boulder, with his right hand outstretched in a sign of benediction. His name is Father William Corby, chaplain of the 88th New York Infantry, and on the afternoon of July 2, 1863, he and his men were in a placed in a dangerous spot. Disobeying orders, another Union general had moved his forces forward and out of the center of the Union line, creating a gaping hole that was now being filled with Confederates- a hole the 88th New York was being asked to close.

Before his men were tossed into the maelstrom in the wheat field below that had demolished scores of regiments, Northern and Southern, Fr. Corby perched himself atop a boulder, and, knowing he could never hear the individual confessions of all his men before many of them would die, asked his commanding officer to call the regiment to attention, and began to make the Sign of the Cross. Corby explained to his men that he was giving a general absolution, one of the first recorded in American history, told them to make a good individual confession when they had chance, to make a solemn act of contrition, and, as Protestant and Catholic, private and general alike bowed their heads in reverence, absolved them, giving them as penance a command to do their duty to their God, their country, and one another. Fr. Corby stepped down, the officers called their men to attention, and streamed ahead into the bloody fight.

Fr Corby Statue at Gettysburg, on the spot he gave his absolution

 

Catholic Chaplain saying mass before Union Soldiers, 1862

 

Fr. Corby’s act was remarkable, both for its bravery and its novelty in an American society largely biased against Catholicism. In the decades prior to the war, thousands of Catholic Irish and German immigrants, much like the ones who would found both St. Bernard’s and St. Vincent’s, fled famine, poverty, and warfare in Europe for new lives in the United States. These immigrants were viewed with hostility and suspicion by most Americans, as they represented competition for employment, and many believed that Catholicism was opposed to “traditional American values” and that Catholics would pledge allegiance to their birth nations or the pope before the flag. Entire political movements sprung up in the years prior to the war with the sole purpose of banning Catholic immigration and worship in the United States. It was in this culture that Fr. Corby left his teaching position at a small college in South Bend, IN, in 1861 and joined the Union army with thousands of other Catholics, who sought, among many other things, to prove that they were just as loyal and patriotic Americans as the rest.

Catholics served with distinction on both sides, officers and enlisted alike. In the Northern armies, entire regiments and brigades were formed up with predominantly Catholic troops, like Fr. Corby’s Irish Brigade and other Irish, German, Polish, and Italian units. Union generals like Phillip Sheridan, Grant’s famous cavalryman, William Tecumseh Sherman, and William Rosecrans (all from Ohio!) all professed the faith. Rosecrans, a convert to Catholicism, wore a crucifix on his watch chain and would go into battle with a rosary in his pocket. (The general, who would often stay up half the night debating theology with his staff around a campfire, converted his brother Sylvester, who would later serve as the first bishop of the Diocese of Columbus.) Catholics served for the Confederacy as well, most notably generals P.T. Beauregard, who fired the first shots of the war on Fort Sumter, and James Longstreet, who would spend his post war career campaigning for civil rights for freed slaves and reconciliation between the North and South. Catholics served as noncombatants as well, as churches and convents were turned into hospitals for injured or sick soldiers. The Daughters of Charity, founded by St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, MD, and dozens of other religious orders treated the sick and dying. Indeed, nuns were the first caretakers of soldiers on both sides, opening hospitals before both the Red Cross and US Army. One feisty nun would even dress General Sherman down in front of his men when drunken soldiers damaged her South Carolina convent!

Daughters of Charity from Emmitsburg, MD treat wounded soldiers on Gettysburg battlefield, 1863

 

By now, I’m sure some of you are saying, “Ok, but what does this have to do with me?” None of us will be called to fight rebels in a field somewhere, but in our spiritual lives, the position the Irish Brigade was in on July 2nd often seems painfully familiar. The 88th NY was fighting an army that had fought — and beaten them — many times, in a position they were in because of the arrogance and pride of a general, for a cause that, if they lost this battle, seemed doomed, in a country that their faith and values seemed alien too. I don’t know about you, but that describes my spiritual life at times — to keep losing to recurring sins because I’m too proud to admit I need help, at a place where I feel like giving up entirely, in a world that sees nothing wrong with or encourages the very things I’m trying to avoid. So what do we do? The story of the Irish Brigade gives some guidance. First, as one Union commander told his soldiers “Fight! Fight like the devil!”- your enemy will be, “prowl[ing] around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Second, in the words of Fr. Corby, do your duty to each other. Seek out strong, Christian community, “not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:25). Encourage, support, and when needed, lovingly correct one another. Lastly, take hope. Though it did not seem like it in the moment at the Battle of Gettysburg, many veterans of the war and historians today view the Civil War’s result as a foregone conclusion, that a Union victory, and a victory of freedom over slavery, was inevitable. So too is the result of our war, the final victory of the freedom of Christ over the slavery of sin and death, Easter Sunday our Appomattox.  We know how the story ends- —it is up to us do decide, like so many people had to do when Fort Sumter was fired on in 1861, which side of the fight we’ll be on.

Fr. Corby would survive the war and return to Notre Dame, where he would serve as the university’s president for 10 years. When it came time to name the Notre Dame football team in the years after Corby’s tenure, the school chose to honor Fr. Corby and his comrades in the 88th New York by adopting their nickname- “the Fighting Irish”.  Yet the legacy of Fr. Corby, the Irish Brigade, and the thousands of other Catholics who did their duty to their country extends far beyond the gridiron — their bravery and sacrifice, an example that would be followed by countless others in America’s conflicts since the Civil War, helped cement freedom of religion and Catholicism’s gradual acceptance and place in American culture. The fallen of the Civil War, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, have also etched out a place on our calendars- Memorial Day. What began as small, unofficial remembrance of the passing of comrades and loved ones evolved into “Decoration Day”, where tombs and monuments were covered with flowers, to the modern holiday we celebrate today. This Memorial Day weekend, take some time away from the beach and barbecues to say a prayer in remembrance and thanksgiving of the “Fighting Irish” and those who demonstrated “no greater love” (from John 15:13).

St Patrick, pray for us!

St Elizabeth Ann Seton, pray for us!

St. Michael the Archangel, pray for us!

The author and the rest of the 42nd OVB, University of Akron Army ROTC at the Irish Brigade Monument in Gettysburg

 

Sources: http://wwww.emmitsburg.net/archive_list/articles/history/civil_war/doc_civil_war.htm

http://www.archives.nd.edu/about/news/index.php/2013/corby-gettysburg/

http://www.wadehamptoncamp.org/hist-sb.html

https://www.osv.com/OSVNewsweekly/Article/TabId/535/ArtMID/13567/ArticleID/1732/Catholic-contributions-to-the-Civil-War.aspx

https://acton.org/onward-catholic-soldiers-catholic-church-during-american-civil-war

https://www.history.com/news/8-things-you-may-not-know-about-memorial-day

You Can’t Earn What You Already Have

by Katie Allensworth

Have you ever thought about God’s love for you? How vast and everlasting it is? Sometimes when I think about God’s love I wonder what I have done to deserve it. Or why would God give a sinner like me His everlasting love. Sometimes it is hard to know or feel God’s love. Despite my sins and my lack of feeling sometimes, I always must remember that I can’t do anything to change God’s love for me. God is so generous in His love for us. I always like to go back to John 3:16 to remember I cannot earn God’s love, “God so loved the world that He gave His only son, Jesus Christ”.  God gave us His only Son, who died on the cross for us because He loved us so much. Notice, that no where in the verse is there mention of God’s love for us it’s something we earned. Jesus came and died for us to know God’s love.

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Could One Picture a Day Change your Perspective?

By Katie Brumbaugh

Over the summer I started taking one picture a day, every day.  I wanted to be able to capture moments during my senior year (and life) that I wouldn’t otherwise remember.   I never expected a 10 second trivial act to change my perspective so much.

First day of school!

At this point in any semester, we are all tired and slightly burned out.  It’s a push to finish the projects, papers, presentations, and prepare for finals.  We miss being home, miss doing hobbies, and miss spending time with friends without the guilt in the back of our minds that maybe we should be doing homework and not having fun.  One thing I always seem to struggle with this time every year is being lonely.  I work best on my own and have work to do, but spending hours in solidarity in the library is never enjoyable.

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The Disc Golfing Works of Mercy

By Andy Udovich

So I just did something I have never done before: I went disc golfing by myself.  Now that all of you are in a state of utter shock and terror, let me explain.  First, let’s take a mulligan and rewind … What the heck is disc golfing?  Well, it’s an outdoor sport where you throw specially made frisbees into cages and count your throws like in real golf.  A good friend introduced the game to some of us a few years ago, and now it has become a popular pastime among many of us here at RooCatholic.  Ok, now that we are all on the same page with what disc golfing actually is, let’s move on.  While I was going through my solitary round, my mind started to wander (in a good way). I started thinking of all the ways that our Christian spirituality has drifted into this sport.  I pondered how the Holy Spirit has been working through this simple game to drive us closer to Him.  How? You ask …  Well let’s take a look at the Disc Golfing Works of Mercy:

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Seasons

By Ally Rellinger

Happy summer everyone! The sun is shining, the sky is blue, and no school! For college students this can mean going home, staying near school, working, traveling, and so many different possibilities. This summer I (reluctantly) decided to go home and work at the same place I did last summer. After being home for three days I can honestly say that I was ready to be back in Akron. My parents, a few extended family members, and a couple of close friends are the only appeals to being back home. My brother and many others who I hold close to my heart are within an hour of Akron for summer, and I have missed them more than I thought possible.

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Why should I apply (or consider applying) for leadership?

Image result for leadership meme

What a year it has been, can I get an amen?

And to think it isn’t even over yet…

It’s hard to believe the semester is slowly coming to a close especially with this weather. Honestly, I don’t even know how to dress myself properly when it’s 60 and sunny one day and the frigid arctic the next….

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New Year, New Me… How about New Year, True Me!

By Hannah Peterson

As every New Year roles around there is always a lot of peer pressure and media push to set a new years resolution. Unfortunately according to Statistics Brain, only 8 percent of people actually achieve their new years resolution. There is also this slogan that I see plastered all over media, “New Year, New Me.” Like, why would you want to change so much just because it is a new year? Growing up, I have always been told to stay true to myself and not change because of peer pressure. That is probably one of the reasons I do not like the phrase New Year, New Me. So this year I am going to change it, and encourage all of you to also. New Year, True Me. You don’t need to start the year as a different person; it is best to be yourself.

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Family

By:  Nate Rellinger

Well, here we are. It’s mid-November. Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and many of us are already looking forward (prematurely) to Christmas. Over the next month or two, most of us are going to get to spend a lot of time with our families. It’s a chance to catch up with each other, telling stories and cracking jokes. Whether we’re with our biological family or our family of close friends, it is a great way to reflect on the many blessings God has given to us and get excited about His plans for next year…

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Help! My To-Do list is too long and I can’t catch up!

Author:  MarySarah Menkhaus

BACK TO SCHOOL

Not gonna lie, coming back to school after this semester kind of felt like jumping into a freezing cold ocean… and not knowing how to swim. I have this tendency to get over-involved with just about everything. I always tell myself I’m going to take a step back, let myself relax, but for every obligation I step away from there is always a new one waiting to greet me with open arms. (It’s actually somewhat alarming how it all works out.) Continue reading

What’s up with this RooCatholic thing?

Author: Katie Brumbaugh

Whenever something changes I get nervous.  What changed? What is staying the same? and why the heck did it have to change in the first place?  These are all questions I felt like you deserved to have answered.  Continue reading

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