Navy chaplain calls on Mother Seton to help him bring hope, help to sailors

By Lori Hadacek Chaplin | Catholic News Service

EMMITSBURG, Md. (CNS) — During the 2020 pandemic, a miracle brought Father Brad Guillory, a Navy chaplain, into a friendship with St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

Guillory went to the civilian hospital to bring the last sacraments to a sailor facing death. But the hospital denied him access to administer the last rites to the dying patient because of COVID-19 restrictions.

The following day, Father Guillory made a second attempt to see the patient, and again the hospital staff turned him away.

A youthful St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first native-born American to be canonized, is portrayed in this painting by Joseph Dawley. A widowed mother of five, she founded the Sisters of Charity. Her legacy includes several religious communities with thousands of sisters, who serve in schools, social service centers and hospitals throughout the world. Raised in a wealth Episcopalian family, she entered the Catholic Church March 14, 1805. (CNS file photo)

Feeling defeated, he asked the saint, best known as Mother Seton, for assistance, telling her: “I was sent here to prepare this sailor to meet Jesus. Mother Seton, I need your help: If you get me in, I will place my work in the Navy under your patronage. I surrender to the will of God in this matter.”

After the staff turned him away a third time, despite the help of the pastoral care assistant, Father Guillory told her, “This cannot be the end of the story. I had put in my request to Mother Seton, and I know she will come through for us.”

To Mother Seton, Father Guillory added, “Are we going to let him pass without the sacraments?”

Just then, the pastoral care assistant’s cellphone rang, and the doctor in charge of the ward where the terminal sailor lay dying asked Father Guillory to come to administer the sacraments to his patient.

The doctor, a retired Air Force colonel, thanked Father Guillory for not giving up hope.

“I was able to prepare the sailor for death while his family viewed over a video chat, and he passed within the next few hours with the consolation of salvation,” recalled the priest, a lieutenant, who is one of 40 Navy chaplains.

“True to my word, I attributed the whole thing to Mother Seton in my report to the captain,” he said. “I also rededicated our Catholic community onboard the ship under her name, and had an icon prepared to be displayed at every Mass for devotion and veneration.”

The National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg supplied Father Guillory with a first-class relic of Mother Seton, so he can bring the saint to the men and women at sea.

Called the “Patroness of the Sea Services,” the saint gained the title because two of her sons, Richard and William, served in the Navy. She understood the difficulties sailors face and what their families endure.

Each year the shrine in Emmitsburg, recognizes and prays for those who go to sea at its annual Pilgrimage for the Sea Services, co-sponsored by the Archdiocese of Military Services.

At the pilgrimage Mass, members of the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Merchant Marines and Public Health Service join others in prayer to thank Mother Seton for her protection and to ask for her continued intercession for all Sea Services personnel and their families back home.

Members of the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Navy color guard are seen during the annual Sea Services Pilgrimage Mass at the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, Md., Oct. 2, 2022. (CNS photo/Jason Minick, courtesy Devine Partners)

When Father Guillory travels from ship to ship, Mother Seton’s relic goes with him. In addition to his ship, the USS George H.W. Bush, Mother Seton has ministered to the men and women on the USS Farragut, USS Leyte Gulf and USS Truxtun.

The chaplain displays her relic for public veneration on a stand next to the altar at Mass, along with an icon of Mother Seton.

When the sailors discover that Mother Seton’s relic accompanies Father Guillory, they often react with wonder and curiosity. Those who have never heard of her, he said, are amazed to learn that she’s the first native-born American saint, a convert and wife-mother-foundress with maritime connections.

Raised in the Episcopal Church, she later joined the Catholic Church. When she founded the Sisters of Charity, she was a widowed mother of five.

The people who know her story and understand the gift of having a first-class relic feel encouraged in their Catholic faith and in their Naval service. Even non-Catholics are intrigued by her conversion story.

Father Guillory sees Mother Seton’s intercession through affirmations he receives when seeking her counsel.

He also sees it when he travels.

“The best example of her spunky personality and care came on our first visit to one of the ships in the Strike Group,” he said.

He took her relic with him for an overnight stay on another ship. Upon his arrival, a young sailor greeted the priest and told him how happy he was to have Mass — it had been six weeks since he was last able to attend.

“After the Mass, the rosary, the Litany for Liberty, and the blessing and veneration of the relic of Mother Seton, it was now 8 p.m. That same sailor asked, ‘Father, I wish you could stay longer.’ I replied, ‘My flight leaves at noon tomorrow. Mother Seton and I have to move on to our next ship.'”

However, the flight was canceled, and later that evening, Father Guillory saw the sailor who wished him a longer stay.

The priest told him: “Your prayers are powerful, my flight is canceled and I have a whole extra day on this ship.” They both chuckled, not knowing the priest would end up saying three Masses and staying an extra two days and two nights.

“I guess Mother had some business to take care of with the members of the crew. These are the kinds of blessings we are having,” he said.

Author: Catholic News Service

Catholic News Service is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ news and information service.

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