Capt. Ignatius Maternowski, a Franciscan priest assigned to the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division on D-Day, was honored during a D-Day 75 commemoration ceremony in Guetteville, France, June 8, 2019.
The small French village honors Maternowski for his efforts to set up a combined aid station for treatment of Allied and German wounded.
Speaking at this years ceremony, Lt. Col. Brian Koyn, the 82nd Airborne Division chaplain, said they were honoring Maternowski’s memory because he was a special breed who made decisions almost beyond comprehension.
“Instead of remaining at home to minister in relative ease, he joined the Army,” said Koyn. “But not just the Army, he volunteered to be a paratrooper training to jump out of planes.”
While many professions in the Army have a large number of Soldiers, Koyn described Maternowski as a member of a very small and exclusive group.
“It was a group of men who carried no weapon,” said Koyn. “Not a rifle, not a pistol.”
“He was a chaplain and his role was not to do the fighting, but care for the souls and bodies of those who fought,” Koyn added.
Knowing the wounded needed a higher quality of care, Koyn said Maternowski’s decision to talk with the enemy was surely a difficult one.
“He chose to walk down this road without a weapon right into German lines to see if something better could be done to care for the men who were out of the fight,” said Koyn. “His faith told him to bear others burdens and care for those who were in most need.”
“It was his faith that led him to believe even the enemy was made in the image of God and should be treated humanely,” Koyn added.
Echoing Koyn’s description of Maternowski, Friar Martin Kobos, a Franciscan priest from the same religious lineage and community as Maternowski, said only God knows and people can hardly imagine how many troops were comforted in their final moments by the fearless friar.
“In the chaos of the battle, Friar Ignatius must have been like the golden torch which Lady Liberty holds aloft,” said Kobos. “His heroic action providing encouragement to the men around him.”
Maternowski would risk his life making several trips between the American and German aid stations. During his final trip, he was shot by an enemy sniper.
“The memory of Friar Ignatius’ heroism and self-sacrifice has been held dear and remembered by the good people of Guetteville,” said Kobos. “Through all the chaos, this devoted priest and friar held high France’s gift, Lady Liberty’s torch, to a France darkened by war.
It’s Koyn’s hope that Maternowski’s decisions inspire everyone in their daily lives.
“Let his (Maternowski’s) love animate us to go beyond what is ordinary,” Koyn said in closing. “May his faith kindle in each of us a similar goodness that overcomes.”
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