Monday, May 28, 2018

"Chaplain Ironsides" ~ Naval Chaplain Fr. William Henry Reaney (1863-1915)

Fr. Reaney in 1905.
Those who have died defending the country are worthy of remembrance. Those who died wearing the nation's uniform while at the same time serving Almighty God deserve special notice. Though he did not die in combat but of a stomach ailment, here is one such man who spent his whole life serving God while serving in the US Navy:

Father William Henry "Ironsides" Reaney was born in 1863, the son of a naval commander. He obtained the name "Ironsides" either because he was born aboard a steamer of that name, or because his father served on that ship -- the records are unclear. He was raised in Detroit, but heeding the call of the priesthood, he trained at Saint Mary's Seminary in Baltimore, MD. He was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1888.

Fr. Reaney's most noteworthy assignment was as chaplain aboard the USS Olympia, Dewey's flagship at the Battle of Manila Bay. The men aboard ship soon came to love him, as reported in the ship's newspaper, The Bounding Billow:
"The evening concerts inaugurated by Father Reaney of the OLYMPIA are a series of roaring successes (no pun is meant) and are working wonders on passing away the time, making everybody happy and the Father himself more popular if it is possible to do so. He has won the hearts of this crew as well as of all others with whom he has come in contact."
In Three Years Behind the Guns, a memoir of a sailor's life aboard Olympia during those years, John B. Tisdale describes an incident involving Fr. Reaney (whom he mistakenly calls Reamy):
Think of sailors taking a piano and carrying it for three miles after hoisting it over a stone wall! When we had landed it in shipshape at the water's edge, one of our officers came along and said, "Good! We will have it in our ward-room." 
In the ward-room! Not on your life! He was no sooner out of sight than the souvenir battle-axes were were bearing were wielded with a vim that reduced an upright Steinway to a condition that Frank May would have scorned as kindling for the galley-fire....
But back to the piano: its destruction engendered much feeling, but as the real name of its acquisition could only be spelled l-o-o-t, there was no complaint entered by the officer who would have appropriated it, and the sailormen's disappointment was solaced by Chaplain Father Reamy, who bought a piano and presented it to the gun-deck. That priest is truly paving himself a path to heaven by deeds of generosity. Every year he spends more than his pay on amusement for the boys.
Fr. Reaney between Lt. T. D. Griffin and Lt. Jr. Grade W. P. White
aboard USS Charleston ca. 1895.  
But Fr. Reaney wasn't merely a philanthropist or a social worker. He truly knew how to connect with the men, even if that meant occasionally connecting with a right upper-cut:
First and last, Chaplain Reaney was a priest. Therefore he took considerable umbrage when a sailor, Tom Sharkey, created a disturbance while he was saying Mass. After Mass, Father Reaney challenged the man to put on the boxing gloves with him, although he knew that Sharkey, who would have a distinguished career as a boxer, was formidable in the ring. Before a packed audience of sailors, Father Reaney, who was a great amateur boxer, defeated Sharkey. Ever afterwards he was known as “The Fighting Chaplain”, alongside his more regular nickname of Chaplain Ironsides. Throughout his career he organized boxing clubs for the sailors, and among his sparring partners was President Theodore Roosevelt, a personal friend of the Chaplain. [Taken from: The Fighting Chaplain.]
Father Reaney served aboard several other ships during his career, including the battleships Utah, Connecticut and Vermont. He was chaplain of the New York Navy Yard when he was rushed to the hospital suddenly in October of 1915. He passed a month later. An excerpt from his obituary, published in the New York Times, is offered below:
How Father Reaney's Diplomacy Served Admiral Dewey Made Known at His Funeral.
Marines and Sailors as Guard of Honor for the Dead Chaplain of the Navy.
Thousands of the personal friends and associates of Rev. Father William Henry Ironsides Reaney, who was the son of the commander of the USS Ironsides, and Chaplain in the navy for twenty years, attended his funeral services yesterday morning in St. Patrick's Cathedral. There were many who could not get into the crowded church, but stood in the throngs of people on Fifth Avenue during the ceremony, where companies of marines and sailors from the Brooklyn Navy Yard, with arms draped, were posted as an honor guard.
The Rev. Father Lopez, a cousin of the late Chaplain, was celebrant of the mass, assisted by Rev. Thomas Duffy and the Rev. John J. Brady, Chaplain of the battleship Arkansas. Among the clergymen within the chancel were the rector of the cathedral, Monsignor M. J. Lavelle, Monsignors Mooney, Connolly, and McNichol, and Chaplain Vincent McGean of the Fire Department. A special choir was composed of thirty young priests from the Dunwoodie Seminary. Chaplain John Chidwick of the battleship Maine, in a eulogy of Fr. Reaney, said:
"The public does not know that this man brought together in the Bay of Manila the Commander in Chief of the American fleet, Admiral Dewey, and the Archbishop of Manila at a time when such an occurrence seemed impossible. Nor has the public ever heard the story of the night on the Pacific when, with a typhoon raging, the carpenter of the Charleston went overboard and Fr. Reaney was seen sneaking to the rear of the battleship to plunge into the water to save him from the furious sea. 
"There are some folk who would tear from the soldier or sailor the uniform they wear, who would demolish the statues of heroes, because that is their idea of peace. Those men may not look on Chaplain Reaney as you and I, but can there be anything more glorious, more eloquent, than a man who has two objects in life—one to work for God, and other for his country. For twenty-three years, Father Reaney did that."

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