“Priest Bails Out of Falling Jet, Lands in Tree – Gets to Wedding.” Was it the sensational news headline that distracted from the original research subject on the same page, or was it the oddly familiar name of the adventurous priest, Captain Cornelius F. McLaughlin?
It took a minute to place that distinctive name, then memory clicked with a smile on a small boy in a whimsical 1928 Parish Monthly Bulletin account of a children’s movie outing https://sfdshistory.wordpress.com/2018/08/06/a-trip-to-the-movies/ quoted in a history column a few years ago. “Bad Boy Brady…in the Third Grade at SFDS School,” had reported that “We all met at the school…and marched over to the Belmont Theatre on Fifty-second and Market Street…Me and Joe Rody and Cornelius McLaughlin (then about 11 years old) walked over together, and talked about marbles and baseball players. Joe said he wants to be an outfielder like Al Simmons, but Cornelius said he wants to help his father on the Ice Cream truck...” Cornelius popped up a few other times in other 1920s bulletins – in lists of altar boys, and school awards, and writing his own thank you for another movie treat
If he could have looked forward in time, young Cornelius might have been surprised by his future career and amazed by his calamitous adventure – a real-life caper as exciting as any of the movies he enjoyed!
On June 3, 1956, the Inquirer reported that Air Force chaplain Captain Cornelius McLaughlin (then age 39) was on his way from Sioux Falls IA, where he was stationed, to officiate at his cousin Barbara Coyle’s marriage to Edward Norbert Dooling in St. Alice’s Church, Upper Darby, PA, when his pilot realized that their T-33 jet trainer was running out of fuel. “Shortly thereafter, the pilot bailed out, having satisfied himself that his passenger had done likewise.” The jet crashed near Pine Bush, NY just before midnight, and “no-one knew what had happened to Father McLaughlin. It was 5:30 AM when police finally got a telephone call from the missing priest” who “had spent the intervening hours up a tree – trying to extricate himself from the harness of his parachute. Then came the breakneck race to get to Philadelphia in time for the 10 AM ceremony.” Would he make it? The Inquirer noted the first hurdle: “When New York State police picked up Father McLaughlin he was clad only in coveralls, the normal ‘uniform’ for jet flight…” so “he would have to obtain proper vestments, and quickly…After a few inquiries, the Rev. James Dalsey, of the Epiphany College in Newburgh, was willing and able to supply them…” Others helped as the race continued: “Police took him to Stewart Air Force Base at Newburgh, NY. There an obliging operations officer got Father McLaughlin a seat on a (C-47) transport plane just about to take off on a training flight. The transport landed at the International Airport here just four minutes after 10 AM. Father McLaughlin’s brother, Patrolman Martin M. McLaughlin, of the Upper Darby Police, met him there and sped him to St. Alice’s Church.”
But, as the Inquirer sadly noted, “yesterday was the first Saturday in June. At St. Alice’s, there was a wedding scheduled for 10 AM, another scheduled for 11 AM and still another scheduled for noon. Fifteen minutes was the maximum delay permissible under the circumstances. So the ceremony was already under way…when the McLaughlin brothers arrived at the church. Father McLaughlin entered the sanctuary and quietly took a seat there while Father Nolan, assistant rector of the church, performed in his stead.” All was forgiven, though, when Father McLaughlin attended the Wedding Breakfast and told his story!
Who was Cornelius McLaughlin? Baptized at SFDS in 1917, one of five children of William and Margaret McLaughlin, his family lived at 5028 Beaumont Street. He graduated from SFDS School and West Catholic High School, before entering St. Charles Seminary. McLaughlin was ordained at the Cathedral in 1945 by Bishop Hugh Lamb (who was, at the time, pastor of SFDS) and served at several parishes in the archdiocese before becoming a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force in 1952. Father McLaughlin served in the Air Force during the Korean War and remained on active duty for 20 years, earning several awards. He retired to San Diego, died in 1995, and is buried back here in PA, at Holy Cross Cemetery.