Father Jerome Lawyer, C.S.C. (1912-2006)
P.O.W. World War II
Jerry Lawyer was born in 1912 in Dayton, OH and entered Holy Cross in 1930 making perpetual profession in 1934 and being ordained in 1939 following studies at the University of Notre Dame and the Foreign Mission Seminary in Washington, DC. Following ordination, he pursued Arabic and Islamic studies at Catholic University in Washington in preparation for missionary work in East Pakistan (today Bangladesh).
In 1941 he set sail from San Francisco for East Pakistan with a group of 18 CSC priests, brothers and sisters on board the USS President Grant. On December 4, the ship arrived in Manila in the Philippines and all passengers were ordered to disembark. World War II had begun and the ship took off to avoid enemy submarines leaving all the passengers behind.
Eventually, the Japanese captured Manila and all Americans were marched off to a prison camp in Los Baňos. Until liberation in 1945, all the American CSCs suffered physical abuse and starvation. For two years he and Father Bob McKee were kept busy organizing basketball games for young men and boys to keep them off the streets. When liberated by the US forces in 1945, Lawyer recalled “Soldiers entered our barracks, glanced at our flimsy shelters, threw packages of cigarettes on our beds, told us to grab our valuables, not a lot of books or clothing, and to assemble on an open field near the camp main gate where amtraks were waiting for us. We were told to walk fast as the troops set fire to our barracks. Brother Rex raced along while Father Julien, a Canadian Holy Cross priest, who had opened a can of hidden corned beef, began feeding it to Brother Theodore who was very thin and weak. I asked a soldier, ‘Why the rush? You captured the place.’ He told me that there was a battalion of Japanese in a quarry nearby who would reach us quickly. I was being separated from the brothers and Fr. McKee so I told them I would tie a red bandana around my head so I could be identified once we reached our destination.”
Once back in the States and recuperated, Father Lawyer was assigned to assist Father Patrick Peyton in the Family Rosary Office in Albany, NY, and in 1950 he was named the Director of the Family Theater in Hollywood, CA. During this time, he designed 15 half-hour films on the Mysteries of the Rosary and went to Madrid for eight years to oversee their production. They were exhibited in the World’s Fair in Belgium, and for this project he received the Bene Merenti award from Pope Pius XII.
Back in the States he served as assistant provincial to Father Robert Sullivan from 1964-1969 and then was assigned to Christ the King Parish in the South Bronx where he worked for 17 years in a largely Black and Hispanic community. These were some of his happiest years as a priest. In 1986 declining health forced his retirement. He went to Florida for one year and then back to New York until 1998. Returning to Notre Dame, he lived in Holy Cross House until his death. Prior to his death, in 2003, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Stonehill College in recognition for his contribution to the Church and Holy Cross.
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Thanks for telling these stories. I have long admired Fr. Lawyer, and I appreciate learning in your other posts about those other Holy Cross men and women who were confined with him.
Thanks, Chris, it’s a great pleasure to share these powerful stories!