Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Concentration Camp Liberator

Monsignor Patrick McGrath of New Jersey, USA (right)
During WW2 he was a chaplain with General Patton’s Army
In 1945 he was among the troops liberating a concentration camp
[Photograph courtesy of his kinswoman, Liz Barnett]

For additional information click on ‘Comments’ below

2 Comments:

Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Introduction

During the Second World War Father Patrick McGrath, an American Roman Catholic priest from Newark Archdiocese, New Jersey, USA, served as an Army chaplain in General Patton’s Army in NW Europe. Father McGrath’s unit liberated one of the German Concentration Camps (unfortunately I do not know which one).

Wartime service

After being ordained during WW2, Father McGrath initially worked at St John’s R.C. Parish, Newark New Jersey before serving as a chaplain with the U.S. Army, being awarded several medals. As referred to above, he was part of a unit who liberated a German concentration camp, and as the senior officer present, he was presented with the keys of the camp by the senior German officer.

Father McGrath found the concentration camp experience a horrible one and seldom spoke of it in later life. At the end of WW2 Father McGrath also served in Japan for a time. Unfortunately, at the time of writing I do not have further details of Father McGrath’s wartime service.

Wednesday, 23 December, 2009  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Early life

Patrick McGrath was born at Cleator Moor, Cumberland (now Cumbria) on 22 November 1912. He was the son of Lawrence McGrath and Susannah McGrath (née Murnien) and was baptised at St Mary’s R.C. Church, Cleator on 24 November 1912: the ceremony being performed by Father A.E. Mulvaney. The godparents (sponsors) were John McGrath and Mary Ann McCullock.

As a young lad, Patrick McGrath’s early schooling was at St Patrick’s School, Cleator. The baptism register of St Mary’s, Cleator also records that he was confirmed on 18 November 1923. Patrick McGrath must have been in the same class as several other young lads who served in the Forces during WW2. One of these would have been Sapper Peter Doyle, R.E. (Service No 2117012) who was born at Cleator Moor on 1 December 1912, only a few days after Patrick McGrath and they were ‘Confirmed’ on the same day. Peter Doyle died of tuberculosis on 13 November 1940 and is buried in St Mary’s Churchyard.

The mid to late 1920s were difficult economic times for the Cleator / Cleator Moor area. Prior to that period, the area’s main economic activities had been based largely upon iron ore and coal mining, an iron works and some textile mills. In Britain at that time these industries were experiencing economic difficulties and a number of Cleator and Cleator Moor families migrated from the area – either to more prosperous parts of the UK or other countries overseas.

Patrick’s mother, Mrs Susannah McGrath, passed away in 1925 and some of the surviving family, including Lawrence and Patrick, migrated to New Jersey, U.S.A. With other members of the extended family remaining in the Cleator Moor area the different family members kept in touch over the years and after the war Father (later Monsignor) Pat McGrath visited his hometown area on a number of occasions.

Post-war Career as a priest

After the war Monsignor Pat McGrath served in several parishes of the Catholic Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey before retiring in 1982. Additionally he founded the ‘Legion of Mary’ in the Archdiocese of Newark. This is an organisation which has traditionally been particularly active in his home area of West Cumberland, so this may have been where he obtained the idea from.

The areas in which he was based include Bergen County prior to 1971, and from 1971 to 1982 he was Parish Priest (Pastor) of the Church of the Nativity in Midland Park. He was also Chaplain at St Elizabeth’s Hospital, Elizabeth, active in many other religious and civic organisations and an advisor to Archbishop McCarrick of New Jersey.

Monsignor McGrath passed away on 20 May 1995 at Morristown Memorial Hospital, New Jersey. Between 1982 and 1995 he had been resident at St John Vianney Residence, Rutherford. The funeral service was held on Wednesday 24 May 1995, followed by interment at the nearby Holy Cross Cemetery.

At the time of Monsignor McGrath’s death, Bishop Garner of New Jersey referred to his experience of seeing the German Concentration camps during the war, and how seldom the Monsignor would speak of it. One would assume there would be some written records of this time which may have been used in the War Crimes trials for example. Hopefully more information about the Monsignor’s wartime service will become available at a future date.

Acknowledgements:

Liz Barnett (niece of Monsignor McGrath)

Reverend John Kennedy, Deacon at St Mary’s R.C. Parish, Cleator

The Cumbria County Council Archives (Whitehaven Records Office), reference:

YDFCRC 2/1/9 (Reel JAC 1430)
St Mary's R.C. Church Baptismal Register (1906 - 1923) [Entry No 714]

Wednesday, 23 December, 2009  

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