Father Vincent Capodanno, A Priest Forever

Servant of God died on a battlefield in Vietnam Sept. 4, 1967.

ABOVE: Servant of God Vincent Robert Capodanno. INSET BELOW: The Sacred Heart badge of Bill Trollinger given by his sister Christine to the cause of Fr. Vincent’s canonization.
ABOVE: Servant of God Vincent Robert Capodanno. INSET BELOW: The Sacred Heart badge of Bill Trollinger given by his sister Christine to the cause of Fr. Vincent’s canonization. (photo: The Archdiocese for the Military Services)

Servant of God Father Vincent Capodanno is being credited with a miracle for a woman suffering from multiple sclerosis after she prayed for his intercession. In 2017, an MRI showed that the MS-related lesions in her brain were completely gone.

After investigation, the Florida diocese of Palm Beach believe it is a true miracle with no scientific explanation. The case now goes to Rome in the interest of advancing the cause toward canonization for this U.S. Navy chaplain, who died on a Vietnam battlefield serving his Marines Sept. 4, 1967.

I first heard of Father Capodanno through Christine Trollinger when she shared a remarkable story about him in Amazing Grace for the Catholic Heart.

Her brother Bill was a Marine in 1967. He left wearing a Sacred Heart badge pinned to his undershirt. His parents had consecrated their four children to the Sacred Heart of Jesus when they were babies and they had practiced the Nine First Fridays devotion given to St. Margaret Mary. It was to her that Jesus, in an apparition, revealed promises to those who received Holy Communion in honor of his Sacred Heart on nine consecutive first Fridays of the month.

Bill landed in Vietnam on Aug. 21, 1967. He did not want his family to worry so he led them to believe he was stuck in a desk job rather than getting sent to the battlefield. But on the night of Sept. 21, Christine had a terrible dream.

I dreamed I was standing on a small incline and saw my brother Billy carrying a machine gun. I heard the horrible sound of rockets and mortars going off. In my dream, I screamed: “Run, Billy, run!” And then a big flash and explosion landed close to him Through the smoke and fire, I saw him lying wounded. Both of his hands were gone, and blood was everywhere. He was moaning in pain. My heart broke as I watched and tried to run to him. My beloved Billy was all alone. I was so close to him and yet so far.

Then, suddenly I saw a Catholic chaplain run over to Bill. He appeared to be wounded also but leaned over Bill and began to comfort him. He prayed and anointed Bill as best he could. He was so calm and reassuring to my brother. He said: ‘Don’t worry son. God is with us this good day.’

I was crying so hard by this time; I woke up from this awful nightmare. As I always did as a child, I wanted my dad to soothe me. I got out of bed and called him at 1:30 a.m.

The phone barely rang once before Dad picked up. He was crying softly when he answered. To this day, I don’t remember which one of us said it first: ‘Billy is dead.’

Father and daughter discovered they had the same exact dream. Every detail matched. They desperately hoped it was just a warning to pray harder for Bill’s safety. It was not. One week later, on Sept. 28, the Marines knocked at the family home.

On Sept. 21, Bill’s entire unit was caught in an ambush, trapped in a crossfire of rocket and mortar fire. Bill was the only survivor but died shortly after another unit found him. A later letter reported that the Marines who had administered first aid to Bill before he died, had promised to honor his request to “please thank the Padre for helping me to die well.”

They did not know who the priest could be as there were none in their unit. “We were told that Bill was at peace when he died exactly one month after he landed in Vietnam,” Christine explained. Although they tried, the family was never able to locate the priest who had given him last rites.

Many years passed when a friend sent Christine an email about a chaplain from Vietnam who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart for his extraordinary service. He was known as the “Grunt Padre” and often told his men, “God is with us this good day.”

As she opened the attachment, Christine’s heart skipped a beat. It was the priest from her dream! Then reading the date of his death took her breath away—17 days before Bill died.

As part of the communion of saints, Father Capodanno was truly “a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” And Jesus always keeps his promises. One of his 12 promises for the Sacred Heart devotion revealed to St. Margaret Mary is, “I promise then in the excessive mercy of my heart that my all-powerful love will grant to those who communicate on the first Friday in nine consecutive months, the grace of final penitence; they will not die in my disgrace nor without receiving their sacraments; My Divine Heart will be their refuge in this last moment.”

Fr. Capodanno was one of 10 children and was ordained a Maryknoll priest June 14, 1958. He first served in the mountains of Taiwan, then at a school in Hong Kong. In 1965, he was assigned as a chaplain to the First Marine Division in Vietnam.

In the early hours of Sept. 4, 1967, his unit was surrounded by approximately 2,500 North Vietnamese soldiers. Under heavy fire, Fr. Capodanno attended to the dying, gave Last Rites, comforted them and even gave up his own gas mask despite his own wounds.

As he went to help another wounded soldier, he was shot 27 times in the back and killed. His body is interred in St. Peter’s Cemetery in West New Brighton, Staten Island, New York.

Servant of God, Father Vincent, pray for us.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray testifies Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee at the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

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