Rev. John J. Wood, CSV, died Nov. 21, 1977 after battling cancer. He was in the 42nd year of religious life and in the 39th year of his priesthood. At the time of his passing, he was 70.
He was born May 31, 1907 in Philadelphia and grew up the middle of eight children in a devout Catholic family. He joined the Viatorian Community in 1935 after earning both an undergraduate and graduate degree in English, both at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.
Fr. Wood studied at the Viatorian novitiate in Lemont, IL before his first assignment, from 1936-37, teaching at Cathedral Boys’ High School in Springfield. One year later, he studied in the seminary in Washington DC, while also attending Catholic University of America, where he earned a second graduate degree in English. He was ordained in 1939.
As a priest, Fr. Wood’s first assignment was to teach English at Dowling College in Des Moines, but in 1941, with the increased threat of war, he enlisted as an Army chaplain. He was commissioned in July of that year and assigned to the Army Air Corps in New Orleans.
On Dec. 18, 1941, less than two weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Fr. Wood wrote to his provincial, Fr. Richard French, CSV, that he and his unit were being sent “westward.”
“Since the war news broke, I’ve had any number of the boys come to me,” Fr. Wood wrote. “War can accomplish at least one good — it can drive lax souls back to God, and that is just what it is doing.
“I’m thanking God every day for this experience, Father. What the future holds in store, God only knows,” he added. “We can’t dodge bombs and bullets, but we can stay in the state of grace.”
Later communications would reveal that he was sent with the Eleventh Air Force in early 1942 to the Aleutian Islands, to shore up U.S. territories closest to Japan, in an effort to turn back any assaults on American soil.
Fr. Wood would spend the next three years serving throughout the Pacific Theater, in New Guinea, the Philippines, Okinawa and Japan. He earned six battle stars for his service as well as the Legion of Merit medal for heroism, the fifth highest award in the military.
After the war, Fr. Wood would spend three years in the Pentagon as deputy chief of Air Force chaplains, and three more years as Command Chaplain of Air Research and Development Command, at its headquarters in Baltimore.
Fr. Wood twice was selected as the Air Force representative to attend a NATO chaplains’ conference in Oslo, Norway, and in 1954, he had the distinction of becoming a “supersonic” chaplain during a visit to the Air Force flight test center at Edwards Air Force Base in California, where he cracked the sound barrier as a passenger in F-86 Sabre Jet.
He spent the remainder of his military career at Ent Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, where he directed the religious programs at bases and military sites around the world as part of the Air Defense Command. Fr. Wood rose to the rank of colonel before retiring from the Air Force in 1962, after 21 years of service.
Visitation took place at St. Francis Hospital, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on Nov. 22, 1977. A funeral celebration was held at 4 p.m. on Nov. 23, 1977, at the Motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Francis in Colorado Springs in Colorado.
The body of Father Wood was returned to Chicago and a funeral liturgy was celebrated on Nov. 25, 1977 at St. Viator Church in Chicago.
Burial was at Queen of Heaven Cemetery, Hillside, Illinois.
Please remember Fr. Wood in your Masses and Prayers.
Taken from a provincial letter by Rev. Kenneth Morris, CSV, a biography by Rev. John Linnan, CSV, and a news clipping “Chaplain Wood to Retire” dated 1962