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February 26, 2012

Priests who survived Andrea Doria sinking focus of seminarian’s oral history project

By Patrick Butler

CONTRIBUTOR

It’s been almost 60 years since the Andrea Doria sank 200 miles off Nantucket Island, but retired Auxiliary Bishop Raymond Goedert hasn’t forgotten that day or his journey on that ship. And if Mundelein seminarian Kyle Lee has his way, neither will anyone else.

Lee spent five months compiling the recollections of Bishop Goedert, Father Richard Wojcik and Msgr. John Dulciamore of the night July 29, 1956, when the luxury liner collided with the passenger ship Stockholm 200 miles off Nantucket Island in foggy weather. The now-retired Chicago auxiliary bishop and three other Chicago priests were among the ship’s 1,600 U.S. bound passengers.

Goedert, Wojcik and Dulciamore were coming home from Rome, where they had been taking graduate courses at the Pontifical Gregorian University, said Lee, who estimates he has six hours of taped interviews from the three. He condensed those to an 80-minute audio recording available at vimeo.com/33910689.

Interest in history

Lee, who moved to the city from Columbus, Ohio, to attend the University of Chicago, said he’s always been interested in lost ships starting with the Titanic and described himself as having a “scientific turn of mind.” He was planning to attend medical school and was working in a research lab at Northwestern University when he decided to enter Mundelein Seminary where he is a first-year theology student.

“I was ready to apply (for medical school) at the end of the year, but the whole sense of being drawn to the priesthood was just impossible to ignore,” he said.

So it was only natural for him to want to merge his interest in “priests doing priestly things” with the Andrea Doria disaster, Lee said.

“It became very apparent these priests were not alone, that there was something happening I can only characterize as grace,” he said. “I felt I had an imperative to do this [tell their story].”

“As the interviews progressed, it got very obvious that the Holy Spirit or some influence was operating because this got less about the historical details and more about the spiritual implications of what happened. And it really became very beautiful,” Lee said.

Asked what it was like the night of July 29, 1956, Bishop Goedert cautioned that “everyone’s stories depend on where they were at the time. There were other priests ministering to the passengers. We said the rosary, gave general absolution,” and tried to calm people down.

Of course he was scared, Bishop Goedert said. “I certainly thought the end had come. When I said the Hail Mary, the words ‘now and at the hour of our death’ sounded pretty immediate. I started making so many promises to God I don’t remember them all. They were genuine. I was reacting partially from faith and partially from fear,” Bishop Goedert said.

When the ship started listing “so you couldn’t let go of the railing or you’d go flying, everyone just figured things out for themselves” in the absence of any direction from the crew, the bishop said. Bishop Goedert and his colleagues, along with another Chicago priest, Father Tom Kelly, started carefully making their way to where lifeboats were loading.

Most of the passengers and crew somehow made it, but 46 from the Andrea Doria and five Stockholm crewmen died in the collision, he said.

Gratitude to God

The survivors were eventually picked up by other ships, including the Isle de France and even the damaged Stockholm.

“When I got back to the United States, I told my spiritual advisor I wasn’t sure I could live up to all the promises I made and asked if he could remove that burden. I didn’t want to have some guilt feelings about not living up to my promises, because I didn’t even remember all that I had promised.”

“I certainly have great gratitude to God for sparing us,” the bishop said. “I certainly had a great understanding that death could come at any time.”

Since his experience on the Andrea Doria, Bishop Goedert said, “I’ve never been afraid of any new assignment because Providence is operating so strongly and everything is happening for a reason.”

Lee said he himself has been learning to trust in the Spirit in different ways.

“Coming into the seminary, I had a lot of ideas about what I could do as a priest,” he said. “But in the last year or two, I’ve had a very strong sense I need to trust a little more. It’s been a very important spiritual moment.”

To listen to the recording, visit vimeo.com/33910689.