Remembering Friar Ignatius Maternowski
Fr. Ignatius Maternowski during paratrooper training.

Remembering Friar Ignatius Maternowski

In the early hours of D- Day, June 6, 1944, military chaplain Fr. Ignatius Maternowski parachuted into the occupied territory of the hamlet of Guetteville in the town of Picauville. There were many wounded paratroopers and glider victims so Fr. Ignatius attempted to negotiate with his German counterpart to establish a common hospital to treat all the wounded.

According to the Geneva Convention, medical staff and chaplains were to be respected and protected under all circumstances. It was also their responsibility, when the situation permitted, to communicate with their counterparts, to better care for and protect the wounded. So, with a brisk and determined step he went to meet his German colleague.

Sometime later, to everyone’s surprise, Friar Ignatius arrived accompanied by the German (nurse) Major. Realizing the pressing need for another field hospital, the two chaplains went to requisition an additional building. In the mind and heart of Friar Ignatius, he had found a companion who, according to the rules of the Geneva Convention, was willing to declare Gueutteville a protected medical zone, thereby ensuring the safety of his fellow soldiers who were wounded and the noncombatants.

Memorial in Guetteville, France, commemorating Friar Ignatius Maternowski

Friar Ignatius, unarmed with his helmet secured on his belt and Red Cross armband on his left arm, accompanied the Major back to the high point of the village. As the colleagues parted company, either the German Major using his sidearm or a nearby sniper, shot Friar Ignatius in the back. He fell by the road and died, his head lying in the shallow stream running along the fence line. Despite numerous requests from the local population, the Germans refused to allow anyone to touch the body. He laid there for three days, until the arrival of allied troops and the withdrawal of the Germans units.

(The above is an excerpt from ‘A Franciscan’s Way of the Cross on D-Day 1944’ by Friar Michael Lasky – available in our Resources section JPIC Topics Seen Through the Life of St. Francis)

In 2021, Friar James McCurry (then Minister Provincial for the Our Lady of the Angels Province) traveled to Normandy, France and the “La Petite Chapelle de Cauquigny,” where some of the fiercest fighting on D-Day took place – close to the nearby hamlet of Gueutteville, where Fr. Ignatius was slain. He concelebrated Mass on November 12 and blessed the new stained glass window in the chapel (La Petite Chapelle de Cauquigny) honoring +Fr. Ignatius Maternowski.

An excerpt from Fr. James McCurry’s homily:

Father Ignatius died to protect, not only his wounded fellow soldiers, but to safeguard all the innocent non-combatants of the area from the German reprisals.  He died in defense of those principles – a martyr of love.
Even now, in a secular and pluralistic age, this Catholic, Franciscan, Army captain – a simple boy from the small town of Holyoke, Massachusetts – embodies the very highest aspirations of any branch of the human family. His commitment to the dignity of the human person was absolute.