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 Story of the day:

GETTYSBURG-CHURCHES Jun-22-2004 (1,010 words) xxxn
Gettysburg tour offers look back at churches' role in famed battle

By Roy J. Horner
Catholic News Service

GETTYSBURG, Pa. (CNS) -- Of all the houses of worship in this world-famous Pennsylvania borough, "one of the crown jewels" is the Diocese of Harrisburg's St. Francis Xavier Church, according to Gettysburg historian and resident Dan Markle.

"I love history and I love the history of St. Francis," said Markle, a parishioner.

His mission to share the 151-year-old church's rich mother lode of historical facts and personal remembrances is benefiting from some timely support from the Interchurch Concern for Tourists, a Gettysburg ecumenical coalition.

St. Francis Xavier is one of seven churches with connections to the Civil War's July 1-3, 1863, Battle of Gettysburg that have been placed on the itinerary of the coalition's 2004 summertime "Historic Church Walking Tours."

St. Francis Xavier was one of numerous Gettysburg churches frantically pressed into service as field hospitals to treat the overwhelming numbers of Union and Confederate casualties during and after the battle, and to comfort the dying. Much U.S. Catholic and American history was made within the walls of St. Francis Xavier's sanctuary and on the church grounds.

Prince of Peace Episcopal, another church on the tour's itinerary, was constructed more than two decades after the battle as a Christian monument to the importance of national reconciliation following the 1861-65 war between the North and South.

During the Battle of Gettysburg's 25th anniversary observance in 1888, the veterans of both sides put the church's cornerstone in place as a demonstration of the good will between former foes.

People who go on the tour will also visit Gettysburg Presbyterian Church, used as a hospital for the Union Army of the Potomac's cavalry corps. President Lincoln attended a service in the church when he came to Gettysburg in November 1863 to dedicate the Soldiers' National Cemetery and present his Gettysburg Address.

Markle said the "Historic Church Walking Tours" offer patrons an engaging, inspiring and interesting peek at vignettes from the massive 1863 battle that engulfed the small and sleepy town of Gettysburg. It has gone down in history as one of the world's greatest military engagements.

At each church stop during the tours, narrators read eyewitness accounts extracted from the diaries, journals and stories that the town's citizens and the Union and Confederate fighting men have handed down through the generations.

The accounts read at the St. Francis Xavier stop are those of Col. Henry S. Huidekoper of the 15th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry and three other eyewitnesses to the battle -- schoolteacher Sallie Myers, Irish Brigade chaplain Father William Corby and Mother Ann Simeon Norris of the Sisters of Charity of Emmitsburg, Md.

Huidekoper was wounded on the first day of the fighting, as his unit battled Confederate forces on the McPherson farm west of town. He was forced to retreat with his command.

Hampered by a shattered right arm, the colonel made it only as far as town. St. Francis Xavier Church had already been set up as an emergency aid station when he arrived there at about 5:30 p.m. Within a half-hour, he was on an operating table inside the church's entrance. Surgeons amputated his injured arm.

"After the operation I was told to seek a place to lie down in the pulpit at the opposite end of the church," Huidekoper stated in his account from 141 years ago. "I stepped carefully among the hundreds of soldiers (from both sides) who were lying in the aisles. There was no room to lie down."

The colonel painfully made his way back toward the operating table at the church entrance, where he recalled that he "ascended the stairs to the gallery and there found room to lie down."

Markle said it's appropriate to acknowledge St. Francis Xavier and other churches on the tour used as hospitals as bastions of Christian charity and God's comforting presence during the battle and in the gloomy days, weeks and months that followed.

"That's an important point," he said. "At St. Francis and the other churches, when you were brought to the hospital, it didn't matter if you were Confederate or Union. Everybody got the same treatment."

Each person who visits St. Francis Xavier during the walking tour receives a postcard picture of the church's stained-glass "Civil War window," Markle said.

Installed in 1963 during the 100th anniversary of the battle, the window stands as a titanic, colorful holy card lovingly designed as a remembrance of the 39 Sisters of Charity from nearby Emmitsburg. They nursed the Union and Confederate wounded at St. Francis Xavier and the other makeshift hospitals.

The Sisters of Charity were put in charge of all the volunteer nurses who were serving at the 113 field hospitals in the Gettysburg vicinity. In her testimony read during the tours, Mother Ann is quoted as saying "many of the severest cases were brought" to St. Francis Xavier Church.

Her testimony also recalled the frightful and heart-wrenching spectacle that greeted the sisters when they reached the battlefield on July 5.

"The sight was beyond description," she wrote. "There were hundreds of dead from both armies. ... It was awful to see such a mass of human beings slaughtered by their fellow men in a cruel war. Tears could not be restrained."

St. Francis Xavier Parish's historical timeline far exceeds the three days of deadly struggle that occurred at Gettysburg 141 years ago. The parish was established in 1831. St. John Neumann consecrated the present church on July 31, 1853.

Other tidbits of history include the 1880s, when industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie gave "50 percent of the money for an organ in the church," Markle said. "And in 1918 the school was used as a hospital for then-Major (Dwight D.) Eisenhower's troops who had the flu," he added.

"So there's a lot of history in that church," Markle said. "I believe in letting people know about it."

- - -

Editor's Note: More information about the tours, conducted on Wednesday evenings through Aug. 25, is available by calling Dan Markle at: (717) 334-3328, or the St. Francis Xavier Parish office at: (717) 334-3919.


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