And Jesus said to him: Go, and do thou in like manner.
Our parish priest gave a spectacular homily in which one part he talked about suffering. It was so good I took a few notes on my copy of the bulletin! He said that suffering and poverty is given to us by God so that we will turn to Him, that we will taste the bitterness so that we will seek after the happiness that only comes from God. In suffering we can gain great merit, humility and follow the Divine Will. In order to earn merit we must be in the state of Grace. He also said that we should never complain of suffering, that evil is allowed by God for our own good. We glory in suffering because it unites us with the suffering of Christ. And also... that suffering brings Christ to us.
Born in County Wexford, Ireland about 1802, he was pushing sixty and in charge of Savannah's Catholic Boys Orphan Asylum when the "War of Northern Aggression" broke out.
Stockily built and over six-feet tall, he trod Savannah's sandy streets in a shabby, thread-bare black cassock, his "more than ordinary size feet" clad in a pair of battered old leather sandals. Meeting people on the street, he greeted them with a friendy smile, a firm handshake and a robust "God bless yee."
As the garrison rushed to their battle stations, Father Whelan donned his stole, grabbed his bible and crucifix, and hurried to join the men on the walls.
Olmstead noted that "by his calmness and cheering words, (Whelan) did much to encourage the members of the garrison during their severe ordeal."
Rising early each morning, [Father] Whelan would take a brisk walk around the ramparts, say Mass, then spent the rest of the day visiting with the enlisted men. One day Olmstead and his fellow officers noticed that his clothing had become even more threadbare than usual. Without asking him, they sent word to some of his Catholic friends in Manhattan that the old priest could use some new duds. A new outfit was promptly sent over to the island and, while Whelan slept, placed in a neat pile at the foot of his bunk. When he awakened the next morning, he was delighted to find the new clothes.
Later that same day, Olmstead spotted him wearing his ragged old outfit again. "Where are your new clothes, Father?" he inquired. Whelan explained that he'd given them to an enlisted man captured in his underclothing, while trying to swim a river. "But why didn't you give him your old things?", Olmstead wanted to know. "When I give for Christ's sake", the old Irishman answered with a shrug, "I give my best."
He was later assigned to a prison stockade that held 25,000 prisoners in the space meant for 10,000. It was dirty, absolutely filthy and the conditions unsanitary.
As Father Hamilton would later testify, the place was extremely filthy and "the men all huddled together and covered with vermin. ... There was no shelter at all, so far as [he] could see, except ... that some of the men who had their blankets there had put them up on little bits of roots that they had abstracted from the ground." Hamilton noted that "the heat was intolerable; there was no air at all in the stockade"; and that he saw "a great many men perfectly naked, walking about through the stockade ... [seemingly having] lost all regard for delicacy, shame, morality or anything else." In order to minister to them a priest would have to "creep on [his] hands and knees into the holes that the men had burrowed into the ground and stretch [himself] out alongside of them to hear their confessions."
The sickening stench of the place, coupled with the flies, mosquitoes and body lice, created an environment so appauling that, while other priests came for short periods of time to assist Father Whelan, he was the only one who was able to remain there for any length of time.
Yet the saintly Whelan remained at Andersonville from June 16 to October 1, spending the entire day (from 5 AM till dusk) in the stockade; hearing confessions, comforting the sick, and administering the last rites of the Church. Given the rate at which the POW's were dying, he said later that he had to "shorten what is called the sacramentalia, and also the ceremonies of Baptism and Extreme Unction".
Sharing the same coarse corn bread, cow peas and parched corn coffee as the prisoners and guards, he slept in a broken-down, leaky 12 x 8 foot cattle shed about a mile from the stockade. Such exemplary conduct won him many converts and many of the prisoners who survived paid tribute to him. "All creeds, colors, nations and cities were alike to him", one POW noted. "He was indeed the Good Samaritan."
"The good old man is passing from earth to that heaven reserved for such as he," the Savannah Morning News wrote January 28th, "where he will receive the reward due to his Godly life. The good and true, especially those who have known him at the bivouac, in the battle's front, at the couch of the sick, wounded and dying, and at the altar, will mourn his loss."
From what I understand his funeral procession was some 2-1/2 miles long.
To love another person is to see the Face of God.
~ Les Miserables