It’s not often that St. Viator College makes the news. After all, the college closed in 1938 and Olivet Nazarene University now owns the Bourbonnais campus.
Yet last week, a story in the Kankakee Daily Journal described a plaque that had disappeared, that originally stood on the college campus and honored a St. Viator College graduate — and the most decorated chaplain of World War I.
Fr. Harris A Darche completed his seminary studies at St. Viator and graduated in 1909, just four years before another famous alumni of the college, Archbishop Fulton Sheen, who studied there from 1913-1917.
A plaque honoring one of the founders of American Legion Post 766 in Bradley was reported stolen. https://t.co/YdWx88sOn7
— The Daily Journal (@TDJnews) September 24, 2020
Fr. Darche was ordained a priest in the Peoria Diocese in 1912 before being appointed a Navy chaplain. He went to the front with the 6th Marine Regiment, serving at Chateau Thierry, Meuse Argonne and Belleau Wood. According to the story, he survived a mustard gas attack and twice German shells went off and killed all the men around him, but miraculously he survived.
The plaque honors Darche as a “true soldier of Christ and his country with an extraordinary combination of ability and humility. He was noted for his courage, modesty and tolerance of all beliefs. A priest of God and the servant of man.”
For his bravery and service, Fr. Darche was awarded the Legion of Honor, the French Cross, Navy Cross, and the Campaign Medal with three campaign bars.
After the war, Fr. Darche was named the sixth pastor of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in 1923, in Bradley, where he served until his death in 1937.
But because of the plaque, Fr. Darche is best remembered as one of the founding members of American Legion Post 766 in Bradley. In 1931, he served as chaplain for the national organization of the American Legion.
One year after his death, Legion members created the plaque as a memorial and installed it on a large boulder at St. Viator College. When the college closed, the memorial moved to the Legion post where it has stood for more than 80 years.
Members of the post — and local residents — want it back.