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Monday, 16 February 2015 00:00

An emotional, physical and spiritual journey

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Looking back at 2014, all I can think about is how lucky I have been. I feel so inspired by the generosity that was shown to me by so many amazing people and that took me on the journey of a lifetime. I have developed a great love for remembrance and history and have thoroughly enjoyed participating in French culture, language, and history. The Young Ambassadors tour really made me connect authentically with the spirit of those who served a century ago. Being there, where they were. Where they died. And where their memories still live. I shall never look at life the same way.

So, thank you. Thank you to all who have helped me come so far.
In a profound way, I feel I have entered into the spiritual family of those who suffered, who died, and who served in WWI. And although there is tragedy and pain in this history, discovering courageous stories of those real people is a truly beautiful thing. I will always consider my time as a Young Ambassador as an amazing gift. What I have discovered and learnt will definitely always stay dear to me.

With regard to my finished project, it is two-fold.

One part is the video here above, exploring the spiritual aspects of WWI by following the life of Chaplain Major Fr. James Joseph McMenamin.

The other will be an article that the New Zealand Herald has so kindly agreed to publish within the next few weeks, so keep an eye out for it.

Here is the article:

The Reverend Fr. James Joseph McMenamin served selflessly and paid the ultimate sacrifice as a Catholic Chaplain to the Armed Forces in the Great War.

Born on 16 August 1874 to John and Elizabeth McMenamin, he grew up in a large family in Wanganui. In the late 1890s the McMenamin family moved to the Hutt Valley. There, James and his brother William worked as tailors in the family business. James also developed his talents as a cabinet maker, was a keen cricketer and played piano for a theatre company that toured the country.

Called to the priesthood at age 28, McMenamin became a founding student at the Holy Cross College Seminary in Mosgiel and was ordained by Bishop Verdon on 12th December 1909. He returned to Petone as Parish Priest in 1912 after two years serving as an assistant priest at Westport. Administering whole-heartedly to the spiritual needs of parishioners as well as playing cricket for the Petone Club meant that McMenamin rapidly became a pillar of the Petone Community.

When the First World War commenced on August 4th 1914, he was fast to volunteer as Chaplain to the Armed Forces and embarked on one of ten troopships to Egypt in October 1914. There he served the New Zealand soldiers stationed along the Suez Canal. Conditions were far from ideal, and he found himself having to use the little he had to administer the sacraments to the men. He even used a doctor’s operating table as a makeshift altar.

Chaplain Captain McMenamin landed at Gallipoli on 25th April 1915 to serve at the front line. He endured the dreadful conditions to give spiritual aid to the New Zealanders.
While writing to Fr. Leo Daly, a Chaplain at Trentham Military Camp, McMenamin said:

“I have scribbled these few notes hastily on my knees while we are taking a rest. Nearly all the time shells have been bursting all around us and I have been expecting one to drop in my face at any time so I am afraid my notes will sound somewhat jumbled to you… I have just been interrupted to go and bury two Otago boys (1RC)… just been killed by the shrapnel…”


His selfless attending to the soldier’s spiritual needs on the battlefield eventually took a toll on his own physical health. In September 1915 he returned in New Zealand to recover. Crowded congregations were attracted to Ponsonby Parish to hear him recall his experiences. While he spoke he was not able to stand due to his ill health.

His will to help had not ceased however, and in May 1916 he volunteered to return to Europe, and served in hospitals in England. McMenamin tended the sick and wounded there until January 1917 when he courageously resumed his work for the men of the front line, this time serving the 2nd Battalion of the Canterbury Regiment in France.

On the 9th of July, 1917, after the Battle of Messines in Belgium McMenamin was conducting funeral service for fallen soldiers. Unexpectedly the enemy fired a shell into the congregation. Six soldiers were injured, and the Reverend Fr. James Joseph McMenamin was killed. Shortly before his passing he had been promoted to the military rank of Chaplain Major. His tragic death stirred the hearts of many. People of all faiths were inspired by McMenamin’s courage and the sacrafices he made for his fellow soldiers.

The effect he had on the soldiers he served was immense. An extract from a letter written by a Petone soldier in The Colonist on 8th July 1917, one day before McMenamin’s death said that

“Father McMenamin is known as Father Mac. He is right out on his own. When he is not settling draught problems for us he is accompanying embryo Sims Reeves on the piano, and is always looking after the boys, who swear by him. The way the boys borrow an occasional 5s from him is pretty strong. Catholic, Jew or Protestant, it is all the same. There’s no creed or colour drawn by Father Mac. Good luck to him”.


An Anglican Chaplain by the name of Taylor wrote in the NZ Tablet in 1917:

“the Dardanelles brought out the revelation of his supreme courage, no place was too hot for him if there was work to do, no task too simple if he could cheer or help someone; he carried water, he helped the wounded to the beach, he even went with the wounded to the transport; he was up night after night just doing good”.


He was buried originally in Belgium, but was later reinterred at the Nieppe Communal Cemetery in France. His Parish in Petone erected a new church dedicated to his memory in 1934. Although this Church was demolished in the 1990s as it was an earthquake risk, the stain glass windows from the original church were retained and rededicated to his memory. The Parish still continues to place his portrait at the altar each ANZAC day. At Holy Cross College where he had carried out his studies, a sanctuary was also built to commemorate his sacrifice.


“…he was about his Father’s business and his death was that of a hero.”

                                                                                    Daniel Hurley SM (eulogy)

Thank you all very much again for making this dream a reality.

Merci beaucoup, ça me touche profondement.

À bientôt.


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1 comment

  • Comment Link Pascale Hyboud-Peron Sunday, 22 February 2015 20:25 posted by Pascale Hyboud-Peron

    Theo, la vidéo et l' article sont des plus riches, tu as vraiment cherché en détail et en profondeur pour faire du sens de ton sujet. En plus, tu as su le rendre interessant pour ton public ici sur Shared Histories. Bravo aussi d avoir su mettre ton contenu en audio visuel, je sais que c est beaucoup de travail! - N'hésite pas à communiquer le lien à l article du Herald dès qu il est publié! Merci pour tes superbes contributions!

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