Rev. Frederic P. Gehring, War Chaplain

By Andrew Metz. STAFF WRITER

The Rev. Frederic P. Gehring, an intrepid World War II Navy chaplain whose wartime humanity and heroism earned him the name "Padre of Guadalcanal," died April 26 at a hospital near Orlando, Fla. He was 95 and had been a tireless Vincentian missionary and spiritual leader. For the past five years, after retiring as pastor of St. Vincent's Church in Germantown, Pa., the Rev. Gehring lived with his sister in Orlando. He had been recuperating from a hip fracture when he died in his sleep, said his grandnephew, John Kern of Manhasset. "He was quite a remarkable guy," said Kern, who had been working with the Rev. Gehring on his memoirs and plans to publish them under the title "The Padre of Guadalcanal." "He was the kind of guy who everybody admired. He really didn't preach to you; he lived by example." For more than 40 years after World War II, the Rev. Gehring, a Brooklyn native, traveled from Germantown to preach at parishes across Long Island and elsewhere. During the 1960s, he taught theology at St. John's University. His indelible print on history came during the bloody fighting on Guadalcanal, the remote Pacific island where American forces faced entrenched Japanese troops. After spending most of the 1930s as a missionary in China, the Rev. Gehring arrived on Guadalcanal in mid-September, 1942, as a lieutenant in the Chaplain Corps. Within weeks of his arrival, island natives found a 6-year-old Chinese girl who had been beaten, bayoneted and left for dead. The Rev. Gehring nursed the girl to health, named her Patsy Li and eventually helped reunite her with her mother, who said she lost her daughter - named Patsy Li - thousands of miles from Guadalcanal when the ship they were on was torpedoed by the Japanese. The tale made newspaper headlines and prompted the Rev. Gehring to write the 1962 book, "A Child of Miracles." It was just one of the priest's many escapades. In 1960, actor Richard Carlyle played the Rev. Gehring in "The Gallant Hours," a movie directed by film star and former Navy officer Robert Montgomery. He had become a friend of the Rev. Gehring during the war and described the priest as a "great force for good on that island," according to Kern. Among the folkloric tales that have survived the generations is one that Kern said epitomizes the Rev. Gehring's combat demeanor. During a heavy fight on Guadalcanal, a soldier was hunkered in a foxhole, ducking gunfire, when he felt someone jump into the ditch behind him. The soldier turned around and upon seeing a cross dangling from the man's neck, realized it was the Rev. Gehring. "Padre, what are you doing here?" the soldier asked. "Where else would I be?" the Padre of Guadalcanal responded matter-of-factly. The Rev. Gehring is survived by his sister, Mariette Santangelo, 92, of Orlando. On April 30, he was eulogized at a funeral mass at St. Vincent's Seminary in Philadelphia, where he was ordained in 1930. He was buried with full military honors at the Vincentian Community Cemetery at St. Joseph's Cemetery near Princeton, N.J.

Copyright 1998, Newsday Inc.

Andrew Metz, Rev. Frederic P. Gehring, War Chaplain., 05-13-1998.