Christ the King

From a Homily on the Feast of Christ the King

Father Aloysius Schmitt was just finishing the 7am Mass aboard the USS Oklahoma docked at Pearl Harbor when eight torpedoes slammed into the ship's side. Within minutes the ship rolled over and began to sink. The 32-year old Catholic priest immediately began to direct frenzied men through a small porthole to escape the capsizing ship. Bob Burns, who had served at Mass that morning, was one of those sailors who escaped. Burns recalls: “[Father Schmitt] recognized my voice and said, ‘Over here!’ There were two gentleman topside pulling, and he was pushing people through — he pushed me out. He was one of the finest men I had ever known. It was an honor knowing him.”

Father Aloysius SchmittThe priest was being pulled out of the porthole when he heard the voice of other men behind him. He insisted he be dropped to help those still trapped. Father Al died alongside 429 men aboard the Oklahoma. The Catholic priest was the first of any chaplain to die in WWII. The 5th year anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood would have been the next day—December 8th.

When the ship was raised from the bottom of the bay 16 months later, the priest's body was not found, but only the chalice he used at Mass. Recognizing the heroic priest's bravery, in 1944 the Navy presented to Fr. Al's hometown in Iowa a crucifix made of wood from the deck of the Oklahoma. The body of Christ on the cross was shaped from the ship's metal. Then, in 1947, a chapel was dedicated to Father Schmitt by Samuel Cardinal Stritch of Chicago and Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. 75 years later, on December 8, 2016, his remains were at last identified and interred in that Iowa chapel. A true king serves, and Father Schmitt acted like a king. The name of the chapel was, fittingly, Christ the King.

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