Priests In Uniform – Catholic Chaplains to the British Forces in the First World War – By James Hagerty

This moving and vivid account recalls the dedicated ministry of priests who ministered to men engaged in a war without precedent.

The First World War brought dramatic changes to military chaplaincy. As the size of the armed services increased so too did the demand for chaplains. Over 5,000 Christian and Jewish clergymen served as chaplains and of these 800 were Catholic priests. Despite the huge size of the Royal Navy and the large number of Catholic sailors, far fewer priests served as naval chaplains.

Priests exchanged their normal routine for theatres of war. All chaplains lived in the same conditions, experienced the same dangers, and witnessed the same carnage as the men they served. Chaplains celebrated Mass, administered the sacraments, tended the wounded, buried the dead and brought spiritual comfort to men in need.

Their commitment earned them respect and admiration. Some chaplains were killed, others were wounded, gassed or died of natural causes. Many were decorated for bravery. It was not a ministry for the faint hearted and their wartime accounts and post-war reflections bring home the true nature of their apostolate. As they worked with those of other denominations, the seeds of ecumenism were sown for a few.

Priests in Uniform seeks to provide a coherent record and a balanced assessment of the ministry of Catholic chaplains during what contemporaries referred to as the Great War. James Hagerty includes narratives of their wartime experiences, examines the political, military and ecclesiastical background to the provision and service of Catholic chaplains, and considers the reactions of Catholic servicemen and the British and Irish Catholic communities to this priestly ministry. Chaplains, of course, had their own views on their role and identity as priests serving the military and Hagerty analyses their comments on campaigns, battles, military and religious personalities, developments in military chaplaincy, and their personal ministry. Finally, he evaluates the effectiveness and influence of Catholic chaplains on the religious life of men during the First World War.

Relying on evidence that includes hitherto unseen personal records and papers, Priests in Uniform also seeks to inform scholars and others of the existence of such material and thus extend the scope and possibilities for further research. Wartime letters and accounts meant for family, seminary, school, college and parish have been major sources of information, as have diaries, published memoirs and the contemporary testimonies of soldiers and sailors. Personal accounts and descriptions of the chaplains’ work also appeared regularly in the Catholic press, a medium that kept the Catholic community aware of the progress of the war and the Catholic contribution. The chaplains’ ministry was part of a wider national and Catholic war effort and regimental, naval and government records have been consulted alongside those of dioceses and religious orders.

The book cover
The book cover

Dr. James Hagerty has written and lectured extensively on Catholic military chaplaincy and Priests in Uniform is a work of meticulous research. It is a moving testimony to the unique and brave ministry of many priests and a fitting centenary tribute to the Catholic Bishopric of the Forces. His previous books include: Cardinal Hinsley, Priest and Patriot, Cardinal John Carmel Heenan, Priest of the People, Prince of the Church, and William Gordon Wheeler, all published by Gracewing.

978 085244 906 6hb

500 pages

November 2017