Onward Christian Soldier

John Wukovits ’67 | October 9, 2018

Soldiers of the 45th Infantry Division dreaded the series of Sicilian peaks that impeded their advance on Axis defenders in July 1943. The mountain range’s nickname — Bloody Ridge — denoted the carnage caused by the young Americans’ attempts to knock their opponents from their perches, even as German bullets and shells cut swaths through their ranks. The dead lay in grotesque forms on the ground. Wounded men cried out for aid. Bloody Ridge was no place for combat veterans, let alone raw recruits, but few would shrink from the job they had to do.

The petrified soldiers of the 45th knew they could count on one man who would be there for them through the peril: their unit chaplain, Father Joseph D. Barry, CSC, who crawled through a dry creek bed during the fighting to reach the injured. He paused over each fallen man, and either heard hurried confessions and gave absolution to the Catholics, or said quick prayers those who weren’t. His actions during the five-day battle so moved the soldiers and Barry’s fellow officers that the Army soon awarded Barry one of its highest honors, the Silver Star.

Serious-minded, sturdy and competitive by nature, Barry ’29 had always compensated for his 5-foot, 3-inch frame with intensity and grit. Born to Irish immigrant parents on October 7, 1902, in Syracuse, New York, Barry had excelled at sports. A key member of his high school baseball nine, Joe Barry the quarterback also led the school’s football team to the city championship.

He matched his devotion to athletics with academic achievements and a desire to help others. In the classroom, he listened to the nuns spin their stories about the summer classes they had taken at Notre Dame and the joys of religious life. Seeking an occupation that privileged the community over individual attainment, he later enrolled at Notre Dame and would spend an additional four years at the Congregation of Holy Cross seminary near the University’s grounds before his ordination in June 1933.

Father Barry expected a future of mission work, parish labors and teaching at Holy Cross schools, but Germany and Japan would soon alter his path. As war once again tossed Europe into chaos in 1939, he concluded that he needed to put himself where others most needed religious guidance and support: the military. Yet joining the Army in April 1941 with the assent of his religious superior meant embracing a quandary, for from that moment on, he became a man of peace in a sphere of violence. He would walk a tightrope between those disparate worlds, all the while trying to maintain his balance. After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor that December, he became one of the 29 chaplains and six missionaries affiliated with the congregation and the University who would serve American soldiers and civilians during World War II.

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 by Daily Domer Staff

Posted In: ND Magazine