By Lori Hadacek Chaplin
During the 2020 pandemic, a miracle brought Lt. Brad Guillory, a Navy priest, into friendship with St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.
Guillory went to the civilian hospital to bring the Last Sacraments to a sailor facing death. Tragically the hospital denied him access to minister the Last Rites to the dying patient because of COVID-19 restrictions.
The following day, Fr. Guillory made a second attempt to see the patient, and again the hospital staff turned him away. Feeling defeated, he invoked Mother Seton for assistance, telling her: “I was sent here to prepare this sailor to meet Jesus. Mother Seton, I need your help: if you get me in, I will place my work in the Navy under your patronage. I surrender to the will of God in this matter.”
After the staff turned him away a third time, despite the help of the pastoral care assistant, Fr. Guillory told her, “This cannot be the end of the story. I had put in my request to Mother Seton, and I know she will come through for us.”
Fr. Guillory added to Mother Seton, “Are we going to let him pass without the sacraments?”
Just then, the pastoral care assistant’s cell phone rang, and the doctor in charge of the ward where the terminal sailor was lying asked Fr. Guillory to come to administer to his patient.
The doctor, a retired Air Force colonel, thanked Fr. Guillory, one of 40 Navy chaplains, for not giving up hope.
“I was able to prepare the sailor for death while his family viewed over a video chat, and he passed within the next few hours with the consolation of Salvation,” recalls the priest. “True to my word, I attributed the whole thing to Mother Seton in my report to the captain. I also rededicated our Catholic Community onboard the ship under her name, and had an icon prepared to be displayed at every Mass for devotion and veneration.”
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“Remember, she always cares for her sons and daughters at sea.”
Because of the generosity of the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, which supplied a first-class relic of Mother Seton, the priest now brings the saint to the men and women at sea. Called the “Patroness of the Sea Services,” the saint gained the title because two of her sons, Richard and William, served in the Navy. She understood the difficulties sailors face and what their families endure.
Each year the Seton Shrine in Emmitsburg, Md., recognizes and prays for those who go to sea at its annual Pilgrimage for the Sea Services, which is co-sponsored by the Archdiocese of Military Services. This year’s pilgrimage and mass takes place on Sunday, Oct. 2. At this special Mass, members of the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Merchant Marines and Public Health Service join others in prayer to thank Mother Seton for her protection and to ask for her continued intercession for all Sea Services personnel and their families back home.
The special Mass (available to watch LIVE on EWTN at 3:30 p.m.) takes place in the Basilica at the Shrine, located on the land where Mother Seton organized the first American religious community for women, the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s and the first Catholic girls school in the U.S.
“St. Elizabeth Ann Seton understood what our Sea Service people and their families go through every day in serving our nation and the sacrifices that such service demands,” said retired Admiral William J. Fallon, chair of the Pilgrimage Sponsoring Committee. “By her prayers and example, Mother Seton remains a faith-filled inspiration and guiding light for those in uniform and those who send their family and friends to sea.”
Wonder and curiosity
When Fr. Guillory travels from ship to ship, Mother Seton’s relic goes with him. In addition to his ship, the USS George H W Bush (CVN 77), Mother Seton has ministered to the men and women on the USS Farragut (DDG 99), USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55), and USS Truxtun (DDG 103). The Chaplain displays her relic for public veneration on a stand next to the altar at Mass, along with an icon of Mother Seton.
When the sailors discover that Mother Seton’s relic accompanies Fr. Guillory, they often
react with wonder and curiosity. Those who have never heard of her, he says, are amazed to learn that she’s the first native-born American saint, a convert, and wife-mother-foundress with maritime connections. The people who know her story and understand the gift of having a first-class relic feel encouraged in their Catholic faith and in their Naval service. Even non-Catholics are intrigued by her conversion story.
Fr. Guillory sees Mother Seton’s intercession through affirmations when seeking her counsel; he also sees it when he travels.
“The best example of her spunky personality and care came on our first visit to one of the ships in the Strike Group,” he shares.
He took Mother with him for an overnight stay on another ship. Upon his arrival, a young sailor greeted the priest and told him how happy he was to have Mass—it had been six weeks since he was last able to attend.
“After the Mass, the Rosary, the Litany for Liberty, and the blessing and veneration of the relic of Mother Seton, it was now 8 pm; that same sailor asked, ‘Father, I wish you could stay longer.’ I replied, ‘My flight leaves at noon tomorrow. Mother Seton and I have to move on to our next ship.’”
However, the flight was canceled, and later that evening, Fr. Guillory saw the sailor who wished him a longer stay. The priest told him: “Your prayers are powerful, my flight is canceled, and I have a whole extra day on this ship.” They both chuckled, not knowing Father would end up saying three Masses and staying an extra two days and two nights.
“I guess Mother had some business to take care of with the members of the crew. These are the kinds of blessings we are having,” he says.