First Army Catholic Chaplains

john Mcelroy

Roman Catholic Chaplain John McElroy

At the time of the Mexican-American War in 1846, Mexico was predominantly Catholic, and the United States was mostly Protestant. Many Catholic American immigrants from Ireland and Germany fought with the U.S. Army, however. As part of a minority fighting against a Catholic Mexican enemy, Catholic U.S. Soldiers faced mistreatment, were forced to attend Protestant services, limited from freely practicing their religion, and were otherwise discriminated against. This, along with offers of higher wages and land from Mexico, encouraged some American Catholics to defect and fight for Mexico. Some of these individuals would form Saint Patrick’s battalion – over 175 Soldiers who deserted the U.S. Army – many of them Irish and German Catholic immigrants, other European expatriates, and former slaves.

President James Polk recognized the divisions within the force due to religion, and, as a result, met with Archbishop John Hughes of New York to discuss introducing Catholic chaplains into the U.S. Army. On July 5, 1846, two Catholic chaplains: John McElroy, 64, and Anthony Rey, 39, would accompany the American Army in Mexico. Rey, formerly vice president of Georgetown University bravely entered into the battle of Monterrey September 20-23 1846.

Under General Zachary Taylor, the Commander of the Army of Occupation – a force of United States Regulars, Volunteers and Texas Rangers – sieged the city of Monterrey in northeastern Mexico. Despite no military training, Rey was there on the battlefield to care for the over 368 wounded U.S. Soldiers and deliver last rites to the dying during the bloody battle that saw over 100 American losses. After the battle, Rey went outside of the U.S. garrison in northeastern Mexico to minister to locals, despite warnings of danger, and not long after, was killed by roadside thieves. Father McElroy served in garrison and later went on to found Boston College.

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From the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps Facebook page

Photo credit: John McElroy from Wikipedia Commons

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