And now a message from fictional priest Fr. Charles “Chuck” O’Malley

Now that I am at home and banged up, instead of on the road and banged up (that was not fun), I think I have some good evening viewing lined up.

There is a great article at The Catholic Sun about the late actor Bing Crosby and his playing of movie priest Fr. O’Malley in Going My Way (US HERE – UK HERE) and The Bells of St Mary’s (US HERE – UK HERE).

The article was occasioned by a second book by Gary Giddins; Bing Crosby, Swinging on a Star, Vol. 2: The War Years, 1940-1946 (US HERE – UK HERE).


As emblematic of the war years as Atticus Finch was to the civil rights era (and inspiring seminarians much as Atticus did law students), O’Malley represented a righteousness people could feel and believe in.


Early in 1946, Crosby, in New York, visited the city’s archbishop, Cardinal Francis J. Spellman, the powerful “antipode of Father O’Malley,” as Giddins calls him. Crosby wanted to discuss a possible split from his wife, Dixie, whose alcoholism had grown worse. At the time, he was considering marrying the actress Joan Caulfield.

“The visit to Spellman,” Giddins writes, “was seen by her family as evidence of his intentions. If he expected an ecclesiastical solution, he was disappointed. In the account he gave of the meeting, as remembered by (Joan’s sister) Betty Caulfield, ‘Cardinal Spellman said, “Bing, you are Father O’Malley and under no circumstances can Father O’Malley get a divorce.’” Betty added, ‘I think that was the beginning of the end for Joan and Bing.’”

On a personal note, my grandmother, long widowed, in her 80’s married an old widower and converted to Catholicism.  She took to it right away, getting involved in the parish, singing in the choir, saying the Rosary each night with her new old husband, Joe.   As it turns out Joe and Bing were childhood friends growing up in Spokane, WA, though education at Gonzaga.  They kept in touch.

This comes in the context of my catching up on news, including the death of Pres. George HW Bush, arguably one of most honorable and admirable civil servants of the last century.

Fr. O’Malley may have been fictional, but he nevertheless represents something which has seemingly been lost.  Something of that same something is woven through the life of Bush 41.

We’re losing it.   Can we regain it?  Perhaps not without great suffering.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. tho says:

    My Grammer school reserved a neighborhood theater so that the whole school could watch Going my Way. Barry Fitzgerald stole that movie, Father O’Malley had a nice voice though.

  2. Kenneth Wolfe says:

    Today, instead of Cardinal Spellman talking Bing out of getting a divorce, there would be a 99.9% chance of an annulment, probably even personally suggested by a cardinal or bishop as the “Catholic” thing to do.

  3. majuscule says:

    If I am not mistaken, Bing Crosby became a member of the parish where I received my sacraments as a youngster. But by the time he was there I had been gone a few years.

    Nothing to do with Bing Crosby but this is also the parish church where we have a once-a-month TLM. Then again, maybe it does have to do with him—he would have been attending (if he did!) during the time of the changes in the Mass.

  4. MaHrad says:

    Talk about timing, I’ve been whistiling Bing’s “Christmas in Killarney” all evening after hearing it earlier today.

  5. Public Service Announcement: This is not a post about Bush bashing. Keep it to yourself. Or, if you don’t want to, get locked out. Fr. is not in a good mood.

  6. The next time some of your antagonists from the Fishwrap hurl invective at you, just quote Fr. O’Malley and tell them they even throw like atheists.

  7. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    I was thinking on my way home.

    I was a born during Reagan’spresidency, but my first memories of a president were of George Bush Sr.

    Is the first president you remember from your childhood, now “passing on”, a memorable “stage of getting older”?

    Or is it not a big deal subjectively?

  8. MrsMacD says:

    “Fr. O’Malley may have been fictional, but he nevertheless represents something which has seemingly been lost. Something of that same something is woven through the life of Bush 41.

    We’re losing it. Can we regain it?…”

    This rings a bell with me since I’m striving to keep the souls of my children, to help them to learn to navigate this crazy world, to be forces for changing the culture for the better by living the good life. I’ve been teaching them to dress as well as any occasion can afford, to use manners and strive for perfection, to press on in the face of persecution, and to retreat in order to gain strength for the fight to come. It’s a lot of work and I would throw in the towel but the stakes are too high. We’re talking about the salvation of souls and the rebuilding of the Catholic culture.

    I’m not certain what you call it but I think I found it’s opposite. Celinununu.

  9. SKAY says:

    I saw The Bells of St Mary’s many many years ago. Thank you for the link Father Z.

    I think a couple of the things we have lost are manners and common courtesy.

  10. TonyO says:

    It seems to me that the war years (WWII, that is) and the 10 to 15 years thereafter were a watershed moment for Catholicism in our nation. Some will point to it and call it a “false golden era”, but I would point out one thing: Not only could an A-level actor like Bing make 2 movies as a priest, and be lauded for it, but these movies cast both the priesthood itself and the Catholic Church as a whole in a wholly positive light. The culture of that moment in time allowed for Catholics, who were still no more than 1/4 of the population, to put their Church up on a pedestal for the rest of the nation, point to it, and say “that there is something good, something worth noting and admiring”, and NOT BE MOCKED for saying it, by the rest, by non-Catholics. While the rest of the nation didn’t become Catholics, they sure did accept that the Catholic Church stood for good morals, and for no-nonsense child-rearing that was well-geared to turning out wholesome citizens, and for educating in a way that made sense. It was a time when a man wearing a roman collar would be respected by anyone who crossed his path, Catholic or not. And, note, when a man wearing a roman collar would be WORTHY of that respect, 95 times out of a 100. (Maybe more, I am being conservative). And, interestingly, a man wearing black and a roman collar would be known by everyone as being a priest (or seminarian), not have people look at him in puzzlement and wonder what kind of “costume” that might be.

    So much we have lost. Catholics have a hard time holding their Church up for admiration, what with the scandals. And if they try, they will be mocked by atheists. Priests are not held in respect by non-Catholics. No A-list actors could make A-list movies about the priesthood where the priesthood was shown simply as wholly benign – at a minimum the character would have to be “conflicted” and his priesthood would have to be some part of the dilemma.

  11. KateD says:

    If you want to experience it right now, go to Arizona, to Sun City and eat in one of the coffee shops. It’s like getting in a Delorean and traveling back to a kinder, gentler time.

    It won’t be part of the overall culture, with out a violent reset, which I don’t forsee. There is an overall loss of innocence and a loss of knowledge….of knowing how to think properly and just good old horse sense. Even within the Catholic Church, many have lost their compass. Priorities are shuffled. It’s just a lack of proper education.

    Knowing the kids who are involved in homeschooling of Eastern rite and Trads and Novus Ordo families, and seeing some of them already grown and married and raising beautiful Catholic families of their own, I have great faith that we will maintain it within our Catholic communities. The parents who make the choice to sacrifice and live off of one income so that their children can be raised by them, and socialized among people who have similar values, they are building a lovely culture in the world but not of it.

    It’s where we choose to be. Even in Bing’s time there were seedier elements. People could choose that option back then, but mainstream American Culture was more wholesome. As we get closer to the end of time…we can expect more bad stuff…..the enemy doesn’t want to face the music on that last day.

    One thing I know for sure, we will regain the culture of Christ in the Heavenly Jerusalem, either up there or when Our Lord brings it here.

  12. Gab says:

    It was only a couple of months ago when I watched the Bells of St Mary’s. What a wonderful, corny, wholesome movie. I’d watch it again, I really enjoyed it. Hollywood mainstream would never ever make movies like that again – they hate Catholics far too much for that.

    As for the faith, God preserve us. I was speaking with a nun last night, she’s in her early 70s and quite spritely of mind as well as body. I mentioned that Catholics are not being taught about hell. Her reaction stunned me. The venom with which she replied was astonishing. Oh no, she cried, we’re no longer scaring people with those stories. My God is a loving God! she exclaimed with self-righteousness. I didn’t have the presence of mind to reply that He is also a just God and how many souls have been lost and will be lost because “we don’t want to scare people with those stories about hell”? But I didn’t, instead stood like a stunned mullet. *sigh*

  13. JonPatrick says:

    Yes the 1940’s and ’50s seemed like a last Golden Age but like wood that has been infested by termites the rot was there under the surface. As early as the 1930’s Bella Dodd was injecting her 1100 Marxist agents into the seminaries and similar efforts were underway in education and the entertainment industry. It was to break out into the open in the 1960’s and has been on the ascendancy ever since.

    As KateD notes above it is those families that are sacrificing to homeschool and who are driving 2 hours to get to a TLM that will be a faithful remnant that will preserve the Faith and with it Western Civilization through these turbulent times.

  14. Gregg the Obscure says:

    “Is the first president you remember from your childhood, now ‘passing on’, a memorable ‘stage of getting older’?”

    LBJ’s passing occurred when I was not quite yet a teenager, so I’d have to vote no.

  15. Bellarmino Vianney says:

    It is interesting to study sociology through those older movies as well as through the biographies of the actors and actresses. One way to do so is through the Turner Classic Movies app.

  16. LarryW2LJ says:

    The other Saturday, I was searching for “Going My Way” on my Roku. Alas, I didn’t want to rent it; but I did find “The Bells of St. Mary’s” on the Roku for free. Wonderful film – it had been a long time since I had last seen it.

    I was born in the late 50s and grew up in the 60s. Thankfully, Grades 1 – 3 were pretty much when the Baltimore Catechism was still actively taught (before all the “Kumbaya” stuff took hold). Sometimes, though, I wish I had grown up in the 40s, back when Common Sense pretty much ruled the day.

  17. hwriggles4 says:

    Fr Z:

    I am glad you were able to return home in one piece.

  18. SanSan says:

    Enjoyed watching the sweet and pure movie, “Going My Way” once again. My ears did perk up a few times hearing the word “progressive” when the old priest was sharing what the Bishop said about Father O’Malley……on dear. JonPatrick has it right.

  19. seeker says:

    Going My Way, Bells of St Mary’s and other movies from that era unabashedly showed Catholicism in such a beautiful light. Spellman was right that the optics for Fr. O’Malley divorcing and remarrying would have been bad. No mention, though, of adultery, and that as a real person with an immortal soul Bing should maybe stop doing that. Similarly from that era, we all heard that another Catholic, Spencer Tracy, wouldn’t divorce his wife and marry Katherine Hepburn because of his faith.
    Maybe someone can explain the optics of how prominent Catholics practiced adultery but didn’t divorce “because they were Catholic”.

  20. Henry Edwards says:


    Without condoning either, one might mention that adultery can be committed in private and so without public scandal. Whereas the divorce of a prominent Catholic is inevitably a public act.

  21. Fr. Kelly says:

    Henry Edwards says:

    Without condoning either, one might mention that adultery can be committed in private and so without public scandal. Whereas the divorce of a prominent Catholic is inevitably a public act.

    Not so. An act of adultery, since it involves at least one other, is a public act. Even if the number of people who become aware of it may be kept small, it is of its very nature, public.

  22. Bob B. says:

    Funny you should mention it but, as we are so close to Christmas, but I used to show Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary’s to all my classes around this time when I taught in a couple of different Catholic schools. I can’t remember any of my students having said they had seen either, either.
    Another couple of other reflections. Having charge of our small compound in Vietnam, but being able to go to Midnight Mass – and weapons being fired afterwards around 2-3 a.m. – and, a few years later, being able to go to Midnight Mass in Germany with a couple of feet of snow all around – the silence outside was deafening. What a contrast.

  23. Ame E. says:

    Weird. Just watched Going My Way on Sunday night, and then you post about it. Thank you for the book recommendation and article link. I will need to read them. Watching the movie in 2018, the characters and plot seem vignette-ish, more of a movie cartoon, rather than real people. He may represent righteousness, but the key word is “represent”. But in 1944, it seems that audiences would be looking for goodness in the world, and maybe this searching after goodness (the happy ending, the beautiful music, the good priest, the good soldier, the kind hearted record label guys, the street thieves turned choir boys) is what we have lost as a people.

  24. Semper Gumby says:

    Those Fr. O’Malley movies are classic.

    Prayers for Pres. GHW Bush. There is video of his rescue at sea by a US submarine.

  25. Sportsfan says:

    On the top ten list of things that make me smile.

    Ingrid Bergman, playing a nun, singing Vorvinder friska, in Swedish.

  26. Semper Gumby says:

    Fr. Z asks: “Can we regain it?”

    Anthony Esolen in his book “Out of the Ashes: Restoring American Culture” suggests that the first step is to “clear our mind of cant.” Cant are words such as Imperialism, Colonialism, and Racism that are largely devoid of meaning these days and rather are used, primarily by the Left, for political and propaganda effect.

    A female colleague, whose family immigrated legally to the US and has brown skin, provides an example involving the word “racism” and its usage in news reports and discussions about securing the US southern border. She points out that Leftist media and talking heads rarely, very rarely, report on: the criminal activity on the routes to the US southern border, at the border, and within the US; the many “brown-skinned” Americans employed by the US government or by private companies who support a secure border and legal immigration; the “Democrat” party exploitation of illegal migrants for political purposes and voter fraud; and she further points to documented cases of news fabrication and hoaxes perpetrated by Leftist media and Leftist groups.

    Good points she made. I would add that Martin Luther King was on to something when he said, and this quote is particularly appropriate to the guilt-ridden, patronizing, and uninformed Left, that he dreamed of a day when people were judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

    MrsMacD: That “Celinununu” you mention seems to be a form of cant, and possibly child abuse for the emotional self-satisfaction of the creators and parents.

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