Past Treasure of the Month – May 2012
The Rosenberg Library presented an assortment of military memorabilia from the late Colonel Marius S. Chataignon (1886 – 1957) as the May Treasure of the Month. Among Chataignon’s military gear is a WWII bed roll, honorary medals, dog tags, and a desk name plate. These artifacts were donated by his sister, Marie Louise Chataignon, in 1968 and by the Overbeck Family in 2008.
Monsignor Marius S. Chataignon’s inspirational tale of service begins in Cellieu, Loire, France where he was born on September 17, 1886. Chataignon grew up in a farming community, and after completing college joined the French Army in 1905. In 1907 he immigrated to Baltimore where he attended St. Joseph’s Seminary. After his ordination in 1911, he was appointed assistant pastor at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Galveston.
In 1917, Chataignon — or “Father Chat” as many in the community affectionately called him — joined the United States Army with the rank of first lieutenant. He was assigned as the chaplain of the 41st Infantry and was later appointed assistant liaison officer because of his intimate knowledge of France. He saw action in the Champagne and Meuse Argonne Offensives with the 36th Division.
After World War I, Father Chat returned to his adopted city with a hero’s welcome. After the parades were over and the accolades received, Galveston’s solider-priest resumed his pastoral duties and took on an even larger role in the community. He organized two troops of boy scouts, a children’s choir, joined the Texas National Guard and served as chaplain of Maco Stewart American Legion Post 20 (a position he held for some 20 years). In 1924 Bishop Christopher E. Byrne (for whom the Bishop’s Palace on Broadway and 14th is named) appointed Father Chat as pastor of Sacred Heart Church. After the Jesuit School in Galveston closed, Chataignon was instrumental in establishing Odin High School (later renamed Kirwin High School) and served as its first principal.
Courtesy of the Galveston and Texas History Center, Rosenberg Library.
With the onset of World War II, Chataignon again left Galveston to serve in the Army. He served with distinction in England, Algiers, and Italy. By 1942, he was promoted to Colonel and recognized by General Dwight D. Eisenhower for his “exceptionally meritorious conduct” with the Legion of Merit medal. He was also honored with a Distinguished Service Cross as well as a Bronze Star for his service. In Sicily he earned the nickname “Chaplin York” after 55 Italian soldiers surrendered to him.
Colonel Chataignon made sure that religious services were available to soldiers no matter how dangerous or chaotic the battlefield became. In addition to his priestly duties, Father Chat was also a graves registration officer, leading search parties into mine-infested areas to recover bodies. He saw to it that the dead on both sides had suitable burials. Father Chat was the first American priest to celebrate mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome after the occupation, and he led many Americans to papal audiences at the Vatican during this time.
Following the Second World War, Chataignon returned to Galveston as the pastor of Sacred Heart Church where he served until his death in 1957. He is buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Dickinson, Texas. In 1991 he was honored with a Texas Historical Commission plaque at Sacred Heart Church.
for soldiers overseas during WWII.
expressing his condolences after her brother’s death.