Fr. Robert M. Egan, CSV, thinks of his former English teacher at Saint Viator High School, Fr. Edward O’Neill, CSV, every time he is tempted to say, ‘The reason is because . . .’ Instead, he says, ‘The reason is that. . .’

Fr. O’Neill poses with school children at St. Viator Parish in 1942, before he left for the Army to serve as a chaplain.

It may seem like a minor correction, but Fr. O’Neill was a stickler for grammar, and his former student — who had him for three successive years — remembers.

“He was a real taskmaster,” Fr. Egan says, “but we learned a lot. We spent a lot of time on grammar and literature. We read many of the classics with him.”

One thing Fr. O’Neill never talked about in class was that he one of the first chaplains to arrive at Normandy, days after the invasion.

He was serving as assistant pastor at St. Viator Parish in Chicago before he entered the Army as a chaplain, in 1942.

Fr. Edward O’Neill, CSV

He spent time in England, before landing at Utah Beach in Normandy, just five days after the D-Day invasion. According to a newspaper account at the time — headlined “Chaplain O’Neill Risks Life for Yanks in France” — he went right to a field artillery group on the front lines, to counsel traumatized soldiers.

“Without waiting for definite assignment, he came alone to give spiritual help where it was needed most — up front with the infantry,” the story read.

Fr. Edward O’Neill, circa 1945

From there, Fr. O’Neill eventually made his way to the captured German prison hospital, where he cheered Allied patients. He ultimately served five months in France, where his service earned him the rank of captain — and the Purple Heart.

In a postcard from France, written on March 25, 1945, Palm Sunday, he wished his family a happy Easter, and signed off with this message: “I escaped the Bulge.”

After his return from the war, Fr. O’Neill taught English at Mundelein College and Loyola University, before serving as pastor at St. Patrick Church in Kankakee.

His last assignment started in 1961, when he was tapped to lead the English department at Saint Viator High School, as part of its founding staff. He remained there until 1967 and retired in 1969.

Although Fr. O’Neill never mentioned his military service, let alone his time in Normandy, his classroom still reflected his training.

“He always insisted we stand when he entered,” Fr. Egan recalls. “Then he would say, ‘Be seated, gentlemen.’ I remember him vividly.”