BAY RIDGE — The old World War II saying, “There are no atheists in foxholes,” might be clever, but it also speaks to the deep faith held by many members of the military.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jason McGhie, a member of the U.S. Army National Guard stationed at the Fort Hamilton Army Base in Bay Ridge, has survived three overseas deployments — including war zones — and considers his Catholic faith to be a central part of his life.
“When I was deployed, whenever I had the opportunity, I did go to the chapel,” he recalled. “If I couldn’t go to the chapel, I just did my thing in my room, saying some prayers, and then I went about my business for my daily duties.”
His current assignment at Fort Hamilton (officially called U.S. Army Garrison Fort Hamilton), where he serves with the Joint Task Force Empire Shield (an anti-terrorism unit), affords McGhie, a Staten Island native, the opportunity to attend Mass at St. Patrick’s Church in Bay Ridge with his wife Sarah and their three children — daughter Ariel, 9, and twin sons Luke and Jaxon, 4.
The McGhies, who met in 2009 and were married in 2011, found a spiritual home at St. Patrick’s, located about a half mile from the fort. “Everyone knows everyone when we go to church. It’s just a big family,” Sarah McGhie explained.
When they can’t attend Mass at the church, they go to Mass in the chapel on the base. Priests from St. Patrick’s pay weekly visits to Fort Hamilton. ”Being assigned to St. Patrick, it’s a wonderful privilege to be able to bring the sacraments to Fort Hamilton and celebrate Mass each Sunday for those members of the military who live there,” said Father Michael Falce, parochial vicar for the church.
The McGhies are part of a long line of military families who have worshiped at St. Patrick’s over the generations. The church and the fort both opened in the 19th century. The cornerstone for the fort was laid in 1825, and the base was commissioned in 1831. Eighteen years later, in 1849, St. Patrick’s Church was built.
Catholic soldiers stationed at Fort Hamilton often sought solace at the church, particularly those who had served on the battlefield during the Civil War, according to “Faiths and Freedom: Religious Diversity in New York City,” a study by the Macaulay Honors College at the City University of New York.
Through all of America’s wars since the Civil War, St. Patrick’s Church, the closest Catholic church to the fort, has continued to be a center of faith for local Catholics in the military. And that continues today.
“It’s an honor to serve the people who are serving our country. Many of them are far away from home,” Father Falce said. “To be able to meet many wonderful Catholics from all over and to have the opportunity to be present to them each week and be that connection that they have to the Church is a wonderful opportunity for priests.”
Sarah McGhie found St. Patrick’s to be a comfort, especially when her husband was deployed to Afghanistan. Chief Warrant Officer McGhie, who joined the National Guard 22 years ago, was deployed to Iraq in 2004, Afghanistan in 2013, and Kuwait in 2016.
“Praying was something that I did quite often, especially with his Afghanistan deployment when our conversations were short and a lot of the time I felt scared. I didn’t know how this was going to end. St. Patrick’s helped a lot. Our faith is something that keeps us strong and gives us hope in times where we feel like we have no strength when our spouses are away,” she recalled.
Sarah was born and raised in Bay Ridge. Living at the fort means residing close to where they grew up.
In addition to attending Mass at St. Patrick’s, the McGhies send their children to St. Patrick’s Catholic Academy. “I went to Catholic school as a kid, and it taught me a lot of things like a moral structure,” Jason McGhie explained. “I want my kids to have that kind of structure, the kind of instruction, the faith, the morals, and those they need to go out into the world.”
Given its close proximity to Fort Hamilton, Bay Ridge has a reputation for being a military-friendly community. Bay Ridge’s commitment to the military base took a big step with the creation of the Fort Hamilton Citizens Action Committee in 2005. The committee, headed by William Guarinello, works to promote the fort and build partnerships between the military and the community.
“The fort has been an important part of Bay Ridge, and all of southwest Brooklyn really, for generations,” Guarinello said.
Bay Ridge’s pro-military reputation is well earned, Sarah McGhie said.
“It is very military-friendly. There’s also a lot of police officers and firemen who live in the area. Everyone involved in those professions — military, police, firemen — is working to keep us safe. I think there is mutual respect there,” she said.
2 thoughts on “St. Patrick’s Has Long History Of Ministry to Fort Hamilton”
What a great story and family. Thank you for your service Chief Warrant Officer McGhie and family
Honor, integrity and character are the overlapping qualities that explain why Bay Ridge supports Fort Hamilton and why the USA and its personnel continually serve all of us so well!
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