The Field Hospital: Covering parish life

This story appears in the The Field Hospital feature series. View the full series.
Serving in the Army in Europe during World War II, Don Moloney helped clear and close the infamous Dachau concentration camp. (Photo courtesy Anne Hansen)
Serving in the Army in Europe during World War II, Don Moloney helped clear and close the infamous Dachau concentration camp. (Photo courtesy Anne Hansen)

by Dan Morris-Young

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Editor's note: "The Field Hospital" blog series covers life in U.S. and Canadian Catholic parishes. The title comes from Pope Francis' words: "I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. …"

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Destigmatizing mental illness is the focus of the May editions of both the Seattle archdiocese and Sacramento diocese monthly magazines. A Northwest Catholic feature shares the story of the Decker Family, notably the life road being traveled by Mary Decker who showed signs of mental illness as she moved from high school to college. The daughter of Deacon Jim Decker who serves at Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish in Bremerton, Mary has lived with schizophrenia for more than two decades.

Coverage of mental illness in the May/June Sacramento Catholic Herald includes an essay by Bishop Jamie Soto, discussion of medications, a question-and-answer column, an interview with an individual who has come to grips with depression, a report on the counseling and psychotherapy program of St. Joseph Parish in Elk Grove, Calif., and a moving feature on the Da Vigo family's struggles with severe psychiatric disorders.The work of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability's Council on Mental Illness is mentioned in both publications. May is Mental Health Month.

Northwest Catholic associate publisher and editor, Greg Magnoni, emailed: "What became clearer as we worked on this story is that people mostly respond to mental illness with fear, instead of compassion as we do with other diseases that threaten public health and undermine the common good. The common response has been appreciation for acknowledging mental illness and bringing it out of the shadows."

Catholic Herald editor Julie Sly echoed Magnoni: "It has touched a nerve for people and points to the reality that most families are touched by mental illness in some way, whether through family members or friends. People are also commenting that it took great courage for two of the people interviewed for feature stories, Dana Swears and Anthony Da Vigo, to share their stories of living with mental illness."

Jesuit-administered St. Joseph Parish in Sunnyside, Wash., hosted eight Jesuit scholastics last summer, providing the men not only field experience in ministry but field experience of a back-breaking kind. Rising at 3:30 a.m., the men worked alongside migrant orchard and farm workers -- pruning, weed pulling, fruit picking -- during long, hot days.

"It got really hot and it was tiring," scholastic Michael Manalastas, S.J.,  told the Society Jesus' Northwest quarterly, Update. "I had to get into the mindset that this was my main job -- this is how I'm going to eat. Once I got into that mindset, I felt that pressure of needing to do a good job, and do it fast. The more rows you did, the more you got paid. … I'll never look at an apple in the market the same way again." Sunnyside is in the Yakima diocese where Bishop Joseph Tyson has been an outspoken advocate of immigration reform.

Speaking of Jesuits, the director of the Los Angeles Ignatian Volunteer Corps, Anne Hansen, dropped us a note to share that her dad, Don Moloney, remains active as a sacristan and on other fronts at Padre Serra Parish in Camarillo, Calif. and also volunteers every Monday evening for the Many Meals of Camarillo program co-sponsored with other congregations including St. Mary Magdalen Parish to provide a dependable meal for those in need.

A native of the Big Apple, Moloney turns 96 on July 22. Hansen's note resulted from reading the profile of Fr. William Treacy, a pioneer of interfaith dialogue who turns 97 on May 31.

Visiting with Moloney via Hansen's email, Field Hospital learned that:

  • Moloney met Pope Pius XII in Rome while he was a soldier on the European front during World War II, and attended a private mass with Pope John Paul II through the auspices of retired Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Joseph M. Sartoris, Moloney's brother-in-law.
  • His favorite popes are St. John XXIII and Francis because he appreciates "how they saw beyond rules that had little purpose to understanding the importance of caring for each other;"
  • Widowed three years ago, Moloney has six children, 17 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren;
  • Changes in the church that Moloney has appreciated over his life include "moving away from fasting from midnight in order to receive communion," removing the altar rail and situating the altar so the celebrant faces the congregation, and "welcoming marriages to people of other faiths;"
  • "The hierarchy defending sexually abuse priests changed my view of how things work" and ranks at the top of things that disconcert him about the church;
  • "Eased in over time" changes that Moloney would welcome include "opening the priesthood to married men and women" and "allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion;"

His experience of witnessing "so much death and destruction" during World War II make him "very slow to support" military conflict.

As a 24-year-old first lieutenant in the Army, Moloney help liberate German concentration camps at the end of World War II.

Arriving at Dachau as it was being cleared, Moloney recalls the scene as "devastating." "I wandered around in disbelief," he said. He took photos "because no one would believe what I saw. They were skin and bone, like skeletons."

Church remained important to him in this experience, he said, recalling that he went to confession "face to face" just before combat -- decades before that form of confessing became common.

Hansen is proud of her father: "He is looked upon with wonder as he drives around town still volunteering and remaining a pillar of his church. It offers hope for other older folks."

[Dan Morris-Young is NCR's West Coast correspondent. His email is]

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