Priests on Call IX: Saving Souls and Saving Lives

Based on true stories about priests.
by Thomas A. Flynn, LC | Source:

“Men, today is Sunday and I’m sayin’ mass in five minutes. If yer Catholic I wanna see ya there.” said Fr. James Gallagher in his deep commanding voice to a group of soldiers lying relaxing outside the chapel tent. At 6’2 he strolled past the young men with his head high and his posture firm. He was living proof that believing in God did not make you a wimp. His presence was overwhelming no matter where he was and even for these ruffian soldiers, Fr. James was the perfect image of a just God who would punish the evildoer while at the same time give his life for another.

Yet, within, Fr. James was not as firm. He had been in the chaplain ministry for over 5 years already and it was starting to get to him. Not the action on the battlefield or the archaic living conditions, but the difficulty implied in ministering to the young soldiers. Within his barrel-chest beat a priestly heart that cared more about his men than his own self. Unfortunately, he did not feel as if he was reaching out to the men and began to interiorly consider another path for his priesthood.

Mass started on time and Fr. Gallagher was somewhat surprised to see a good crowd of men in the “plastic pews” dispersed under the tent. He offered his mass for the dying and for all those working in the armed services that God would protect them and use this war as an opportunity to come closer to the Almighty. He gave a short homily on forgiveness, remembering the words of Jesus to Peter about forgiving your neighbor 70 times 7 times.

As mass finished the men filed out of the tent into the unforgiving desert heat. Fr. James packed up the candles and cleared off the altar while his mind began to trail off to thoughts of a better life. “Maybe it’s better for me to find another ministry where people appreciate me more, and where I can feel like I am having a real effect on others. Perhaps a parish in a small town would be good, or a school that could use an extra priest. Anywhere but this hellish desert in Iraq would be fine.” A strong gust of wind interrupted his reflection by ruffling the tent in which he stood. He finished putting everything away and walked out. 

The sun was in full force now and blinded Fr. James for the first few seconds that it took to adjust his eyes to the difference in light. When his vision finally came back he was surprised to see a soldier waiting for him. “Padre, can I talk to you for a second?” he said in a soft nervous voice. “Sure thing, Kid. Come with me.” Fr. James responded, inviting him to the other side of the tent so the others wouldn’t hear their conversation. 

Without saying a word the soldier immediately pulled out his 9mm berretta pistol and cartridge and handed them over to father. Befuddled, Fr. James looked into the young soldier’s eyes and awaited an explanation. “Padre, today I had decided to kill one of the guys here on base. I couldn’t put up with him anymore. I had everything set and was about to go and do it until you walked past and invited us to go to mass. Then you told us about how Jesus taught Peter to forgive 70 times 7 times. Well, I’ve decided not to go through with it. Thanks Padre.” The young man walked on as Fr. James clutched the pistol and cartridge. “Thank you God!” he said in a low voice. “Not only does the Eucharist save souls, it can also save lives”, he thought while he watched the soldier walk on towards his barracks. In that moment Fr. James Gallagher realized how needed he was as a military chaplain.

Thomas A. Flynn, LC studies for the priesthood in Rome.  He can be reached at

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Published by: LINDA RICE
Date: 2011-04-05 12:53:19

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