Sunday, July 4, 2010

Fr. Peter Whelan: The Angel of Andersonville

Fr. Peter Whelan--a Confederate chaplain who compassionately ministered to both Confederate and Union troops:

... in mid-June of 1864, having been asked to help out at Andersonville's POW camp for captured Union soldiers, Fr. Whelan was horrified to find 25,000 in a stockade built for 10,000.

Daily Whelan remained at Andersonville stockade, from dawn to dusk, hearing confessions, comforting the sick, and ministering to the dying. When a lung ailment, probably tuberculosis contracted from the vermin-covered prisoners, finally forced Whelan to leave, he spent all his own money and borrowed more to buy bread for the starving Union POWs.

Little wonder then that those Union POWs who survived never forgot the Confederate chaplain in the thread-bare and patched cassock who made the Gospel teaching come alive and real because he lived it in front of their eyes during those nightmare days of death and disease. His own health undermined by his POW chaplaincy experiences, North and South, Father Peter died in 1871.

Pvt. Henry M. Davidson, 1st Ohio Light Artillery, writing home while at Andersonville, summed up the feelings of his fellow POWs about Whalen:

"By coming here he exposed himself to great danger of infection... His services were sought by all, for, in his kind and sympathizing looks, his meek but earnest appearance, the despairing prisoners read that all humanity had not forsaken mankind."

~ Source for above information and for more about Fr. Whelan, click here. ~

This is a trailer for the documentary "Fighting the Good Fight: The Father Peter Whelan Story." This inspirational, one-hour DVD can be purchased at: Known as "The Angel of Andersonville," Fr. Whelan was the only chaplain to remain for any length of time ministering to the more than 45,000 Union POW's.

His story is not very well known, and yet, in his lifetime he touched thousands, which is highlighted by the fact that his funeral in 1871 was the largest that the city of Savannah had seen up to that time. His work included missionary duties in North Carolina, the pastorate of Georgias first Catholic parish, and on two occasions served as administrator of the diocese of Savannah. Father Whelans most noteworthy contributions were the years spent serving as chaplain to confederate troops at Fort Pulaski near Savannah at the beginning of the Civil War. Present during the bombardment and capture of Fort Pulaski by Federal forces, he volunteered to remain with the troops during their imprisonment in New York. Later he volunteered to minister to the Union prisoners-of-war held at the infamous Andersonville prison camp in West Georgia. Known by survivors as the Angel of Andersonville, he was the only minister willing to serve within this prison that witnessed the death of 13,000 men in fourteen months. Because he was a man willing to rise above the political, social, racial and religious barriers of his day in order to preserve the dignity of each human person, he is truly a man for all seasons, and his story one that needs to be told.

Research for this film comes from the work of the late historian, Rev. Peter J. Meaney, O.S.B., entitled, The Prison Ministry of Father Peter Whelan, Georgia Priest and Confederate Chaplain, an article from the Georgia Historical Quarterly, produced by the Georgia Historical Society. Permission was granted by Rev. Meaney for use of his
research to create this film. The film also includes interviews from several historians and authorities on related subjects from the College of Charleston, Andersonville National Historic Site, the Andersonville Guild and Fort Pulaski National Monument.

Mary, Mother of Jesus Christ, Eternal High Priest, Mother of all priests and our Mother, help us respond generously to the Holy Spirit's request, through the voice of His Church, to offer up to God Eucharistic adoration for priests. Amen.

2 comments: said...


Anonymous said...

Father Whelan certainly deserves beatification and more.