Irish Archbishops remember WWII chaplains on D-Day

Irish Archbishops remember WWII chaplains on D-Day Revd James McMurray-Taylor and Fr John Patrick O’Brien SSC, Church of Ireland and Catholic army chaplains during the D-Day landings in Normandy, June 1944. Photo, Catholic Communications Office archive.

Eighty years ago, on June 6, 1944, the largest land, sea and air invasion ever attempted happened in Normandy, France. Allies combines forces to invade Nazi-occupied France, and the event is known as the ‘D-Day’.

At the prayer service in Normandy to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the invasion, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh, Archbishop John McDowell, and the Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, Archbishop Eamon Martin, spoke about the sacrifice of those who gave their lives on D-Day.

The speech happened at the Royal Irish Regiment Service of Remembrance at Ranville Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery, which is located near Sword beach in Normandy.

The Archbishop McDowell talked about the Revd James McMurray-Taylor, a Church of Ireland chaplain who landed on Sword beach, on 6 June 1944. While Archbishop Martin paid his tribute to Fr John Patrick O’Brien SSC.

Fr O’Brien was born in Donamon, Co. Roscommon in 1918, and ordained in 1942 as a priest for the Mission Society of Saint Columban. He then trained as an army chaplain, and in May 1944 he was assigned to the 2nd Battalion of Royal Ulster Rifles, which was attached to the 9th British Infantry Brigade.

Archbishop Martin remembered Fr O’Brien and all chaplain ministers who served during WWII. He mentioned that “unlike many others, they were volunteers, rather than conscripts – personally motivated to serve the cause of peace and freedom and justice.”

The Archbishop said “fraternity and common humanity: that is what our brave and generous chaplains stood for in 1944 as they cared for the spiritual and emotional needs of so many in life and in death.” And concluded, “the chaplains carried no arms – save the power of prayer and the Word of God.  Their faith gave them all the strength they needed.”