By Beth Griffin
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. (CNS) — On the 55th anniversary of his death in Vietnam, Maryknoll Father Vincent Capodanno was remembered at a Mass celebrated in his hometown in a chapel that bears his name.
More than 250 people filled the Father Capodanno Memorial Chapel at Fort Wadsworth in the Staten Island borough of New York to honor the chaplain’s selfless service and pray for his canonization.
[RELATED: Father Capodanno’s Cause for Sainthood Slows Down, But Still Going]
The Mass took place just weeks after the chaplain’s sainthood cause gained public attention over a recommendation by a group of theological consultants to the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints at the Vatican that the cause be suspended.
Bishop Peter J. Byrne, an auxiliary bishop of New York, who celebrated the memorial Mass, said in his homily, that the recommendation by the theological consultants is a “pause” in a process that involves human beings evaluating information and considering how relevant the testimony of a potential saint’s life was to the time in which they lived.
“Ultimately, it is in God’s hands. God intervenes when it’s appropriate for somebody to be canonized,” and Father Capodanno’s canonization might not happen in our lifetime, Bishop Byrne said.
“Father Capodanno gave his life in order to be sure his Marines were able to receive the sacraments,” he added at the Mass that drew Father Capodanno’s extended family, friends, military veterans, active duty service members, emergency responders and local officials.
The bishop also pointed out that the suspension of the chaplain’s cause will be appealed by Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services.
Father Capodanno, known as the “Grunt Padre”, was serving a second tour of duty in Vietnam as a Navy chaplain ministering to Marines when he was wounded during a North Vietnamese ambush in the Que Son Valley Sept. 4, 1967.
Despite his injuries, he went to the aid of a fellow corpsman who was pinned down by an enemy machine gunner. While he administered medical and spiritual attention, the unarmed chaplain was struck by 27 bullets and died at age 38.
He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 1969, in addition to the Purple Heart, Navy Bronze Star and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star.
Father Capodanno was born in New York in 1929, the 10th child of Italian immigrants. He was ordained a Maryknoll missioner in 1958 and served in Taiwan and Hong Kong before asking permission from his religious superiors to join the Navy Chaplain Corps. He was commissioned as a lieutenant in the spring of 1966 and went to Vietnam.
His sainthood cause was officially opened in 2002 and he was declared a Servant of God in 2006.
In 2013, Archbishop Broglio presided over the formal renewal of the opening of the cause. He formally closed the archdiocesan phase of the cause in May 2017 and the findings of the local tribunal were sent to the (then-named) Congregation for Saints’ Causes for review. The positio — a formal brief arguing for canonization — was submitted in May 2020.
Mary Preece of the Archdiocese for the Military Services is vice-postulator of the chaplain’s cause. She told Catholic News Service that the concerns of the theological consultants seemed superficial and will be addressed by Nicola Gori, the Rome-based postulator of the cause.
The concerns include that the positio focuses on the last year of Father Capodanno’s life and shows little evidence of his spiritual growth; that he was fastidious about his personal appearance; that Maryknoll was not the primary supporter of his cause; and that with ongoing military actions in the world today, raising someone from the military for veneration may not be appropriate for the church.
During a veterans’ memorial ceremony after Mass on the lawn adjacent to the chapel, Al Lambert, a cousin of Father Capodanno, dismissed the consultants’ concerns as “shallow reasons.”
After repudiating each of the concerns, he said, to applause: “Making Father Vincent a saint right now wouldn’t be a bad idea.”
Lambert urged participants to pray and stay focused on the cause. He paraphrased Father Capodanno’s last words, “Be calm soldier. Remember today God is here with us.”
Deacon Charles Carroll, a New York City Police Department detective who also assisted at Mass, said he became a deacon because of Father Capodanno’s example.
“He touched many people. We don’t need Rome to tell us he’s a saint because we know he is,” he said. Deacon Carroll led a blessing service at Father Capodanno’s grave at St. Peter’s Cemetery.
Paddy Giblin, a retired New York City Police Department officer played the bagpipes before the Mass and during the outdoor services. He said he and his family are seeking Father Capodanno’s intervention to heal his daughter, Nina.
The 11-year-old was diagnosed with a rare, life-threatening lung disease three years ago. Because she has Down syndrome, the child is not a candidate for the only known treatment available. “We’re praying for a miracle,” the father said.
Preece said news of the theological consultants’ response the chaplain’s sainthood cause has boosted interest in the Father Vincent Capodanno Guild, an association established in 2013 to promote his canonization.
She also noted that people have recently come out of the woodwork with stories about Father Capodanno.
“We now have a bankable miracle for the next step in the process,” Preece said, noting that the case of a woman cured of multiple sclerosis through the chaplain’s intervention has been fully investigated and determined to be miraculous.