(…with fond recollections about one if his less saintly namesakes)

Just a few short years after the end of WWII, a more way-back time than we care to admit, we were a brand new “Recruit” in the Army, having dodged the draft by enlisting since we were about to be called up anyway, and choosing to become a paratrooper. So we were sent to the remnant of the war time 17th Airborne Division at Camp Pickett, in the wilds of northern Virginia for basic training, followed by a somewhat ad hoc and greatly improvised bit of jump training.

The division had been badly mauled in the Arnhem campaign, yet most of the DI cadre were surviving combat veterans who, for whatever reason, had chosen to remain in the Army after the war ended, rather than stampeding for the exits like some many others had done. We recruits were thus subjected to a very tough and no-nonsense style of discipline and training by these old warriors, yet, who were almost saintly in the way they tried to teach us those combat skills that would ensure our survival, if the need ever arose (which shortly thereafter it did…in Korea).

They were thus all outstanding personalities one might even say –characters-, but the most dominant and outstanding one in the entire division was its senior chaplain…Lt. Col. Father Patrick J. McGoohan. Close to six feet four, well over two hundred pounds, highly decorated from his war-time exploits of jumping with its troopers into action, and from his wild-ass risks to help those wounded in the midst of their heavy combats, he was the classic example of a fighting Irish padre…blunt, loud, with a wild raffish, often profane sense of humor. Jesuit to the core Father Patrick also seemed oddly imbued with the spirit of a medieval Knight Templar as well, which made him an even more intriguing personality.

Nevertheless, we rank and file grunts adored him, and no matter what any trooper’s denomination might be, if he had a problem, Father Patrick was the one he’d seek out to get help on how to best resolve it.

After finally completing all our training cycles, we were then stuck in “pipeline” limbo while waiting for the Army to figure out where to ship us to our next assignments. What this meant was that we were used for every kind of make-work boring detail headquarters could dream up, just to keep us busy. Thus, when a call came for an erstwhile Catholic to temporarily serve as Father Patrick’s assistant and driver, we jumped at the chance, even though while ostensibly Catholic, we were less than devout, and hardly an actively practicing one besides. This gave us a few moments of anxiety, but we needn’t have been concerned about that, because we quickly discovered Father Patrick wasn’t one to sermonize about it. It wasn’t his style.

Even so, in the weeks that followed while working with him, we soon discovered that when it came to any kind of discussion or debate about matters of faith he inevitably, and very smoothly, led you into a box-canyon from which there was no escape. When we once asked him why he always won at such times, he just laughed, saying…Son, our order was founded by an ex-military type who figured out how to give religion a better…mouse trap…that’s why we always win!

But our fondest recollection about him was a joke about St. Patrick’s Day. The first time we heard it was one evening at our EM Club, hanging out with a few other troopers, sipping on some of those weak-water PX beers. As was often his way, Father Patrick suddenly appeared, but far from being an inhibiting wet-blanket, with a beer quickly in hand he was soon the life of the party, so to speak, regaling us with wild war-stories told with typical raunchy GI expressions and jokes. But the joke that really got us was the one he told us about St. Patrick’s Day which, in today’s politically correct world might be considered “offensive” by some, but here it is anyway:

“Two leprechauns decide to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by going out on the town to join the festivities for the occasion. They go wild, going in and out of every bar and dive in town, becoming totally bombed, and making a very wild night of it in the process. They wake up at dawn, lying in a pile of trash, hung over, with some very disturbing flash-backs about some of their activities from the night before. This makes them very worried, so they rush to the nearby convent, pull the bell cord at its gates, and soon the Mother Superior is standing there, looking  sternly down at these two grungy, hung over critters, and sniffing as if they’re emitting a bad sewer smell.

Doffing his cap and looking up at her with the best innocent smile he can muster, one of the leprechauns says:…begging y’r pardon, Mother Superior, but we’re in desperate need of an answer to an urgent question. Could you be helping us please?…She nods, curtly saying… what’s your question?…The leprechaun replies…do you have any leprechaun nuns in y’r convent?…Shaking her head, and looking even more displeased with their presence, she says…No, we have no leprechaun nuns in this convent. Leprechaun nuns indeed! I doubt if there are any such in all of Ireland!…and with that she slams the gate shut in their faces.

As they walk away, the leprechaun turns to his companion, exclaiming…y’see Sean, it’s just as I told you. No need to worry our heads about it. Last night we was doing…penguins!”

Well, Father Patrick has long been gone. He probably never came close to becoming a Bishop, much less ever becoming a Cardinal, but he was the grandest churchman we’ve ever known. Blessed be his memory.