Remembering the Chapel of Four Chaplains

Artifacts on display at the chapel.

Story by: IMANI FOREMAN / Parkway West High School

Photo by: ALEXA HCKLIN / Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush

One February day, 77-years ago George L. Fox, Alexander D. Goode, Clark V. Poling and John P. Washington changed history. Perhaps it’s time to revisit the story of these four chaplains:  men who came from different religious backgrounds and are now long forgotten.

It all started on the former cruise ship also known as the USS Dorchester, which was used as an American troop ship in World War II. With over 900 men on board including the four chaplains, a German submarine U-223 fired three torpedoes at it and one hit the midsectiAs the ship was sinking at an increasingly fast pace, the four chaplains began handing out life jackets in an attempt to keep the men calm.  When the supply of jackets ran out, the four courageous men took their jackets off and gave them out to soldiers without regard to race or faith. According to witnesses, these four men were last seen linking arms and praying, each in their own way, as they went down with the ship.

Today at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, a former Navy chapel has been designated to show gratitude, honor and appreciation for those four religious men. This small chapel, named The Chapel of Four Chaplains, is filled with pictures, biographies and quotes from those four brave men.

Patricia M. Aversa has been Program Coordinator of Friends of the Chapel of Four Chaplains for nine years. Before becoming the Program Coordinator for this facility located in Philadelphia’s Navy Yard, Aversa worked as a bank teller for 26-years. After her bank was robbed for the fifth time she realized it was time for her to pursue a new career that eventually led her to the Chapel Of Four Chaplains.

Aversa, who has two uncles in the Navy who fought in World War II, loves her job because she loves dealing with people. The job, she said, is very close to my heart” and described as “such a peaceful place.” though she wishes they had more visitors.

Patricia M. Aversa has been Program Coordinator of Friends of the Chapel of Four Chaplains for nine years.

According to FourChaplains.org, the vision of the chaplains’ memorial is to impart the principles of selfless service to humanity without regard to race, creed, ethnicity or religious beliefs. Their mission statement is “unity without uniformity” which encourages goodwill and cooperation among all people.

Before its current location, the Chapel of Four Chaplains was located at the Original Baptist Temple Building on Broad and Berks street in North Philadelphia. Twelve years ago on this chapel was permanently moved to the small historical site at the Navy Yard that was initially built in 1942.

Although this chapel does not have worship services, people do rent the chapel for different events such as weddings, baptisms and recently a couple came back to take pictures for their anniversary. Other than the occasional events, the chapel gets very few visits these days. However, that may change because the chapel is now an officially registered national historic building, a status expected to generate more visits and attention.

In the past, The Chapel of Four Chaplains has had multiple programs and even scholarships. The non-profit organization Friends of the Chapel of the the Four Chaplains helps spread the word about cultural harmony and religious tolerance. For more infomyou can visit http://www.fourchaplains.org/newsevents.html.

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