Fr. Francis P. Duffy, Chaplain of the “Fighting 69th”
Reverend Francis P. Duffy is one of the most well known army chaplains from the Archdiocese of New York to serve during the First World War. He completed his studies at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Troy, NY and was ordained to the priesthood in 1896. Shortly after his ordination, Fr. Duffy began teaching philosophy at St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, and it is during his time there that he first served as a chaplain at a hospital in Montauk, NY, where he cared for the wounded men returning from the Spanish-American War. He was appointed to the 69th New York National Guard Regiment in 1914, with whom he served at the Mexican Border in 1916.
When the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917, Fr. Duffy was again called upon to serve his country. He aided the 69th regiment in their recruitment during the summer of 1917. Fr. Duffy left for Camp Mills in Mineola, Long Island, in August 1917, with the men of the newly federalized 69th Regiment, now the 165th Regiment of the 42nd “Rainbow” Division. He arrived in France in November 1917. Fr. Duffy documented his experiences overseas in his diary, which was later published as the book Father Duffy’s Story. His commentary depicts life in the training campus and in the trenches. Fr. Duffy offers valuable insight to dealing with death, as the burial of fallen soldiers was one of his main duties as chaplain. Additionally, Fr. Duffy was relied on to help boost the morale of the soldiers spread throughout the trenches and provide comfort to those who were suffering in the hospitals. He left a lasting impression on the men as he attended to their spiritual needs in the heat of the battle. His hard work did not go unnoticed as he became the most decorated cleric in the U.S. Army.
In 1937, five years after his death, he was commemorated with the naming of Duffy Square, a portion of the northern triangle of Times Square between 45th and 47th Streets, and the installation of a statue in his image – dedicated by then-Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. In 1940, Fr. Duffy’s Story became the basis for the film The Fighting 69th, starring James Cagney, Pat O’Brien, and George Brent.
Over the next year, join us as we follow along with Fr. Francis Duffy and his story of valor with the famous “Fighting 69th” Regiment in honor of the centennial anniversary of the First World War. Chaplain Duffy’s story can be followed on Twitter @ChaplainDuffy.