Disaster Chaplain

Father Charles Bisgrove (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)In 2001 Father Charles Bisgrove became a certified disaster chaplain for the National Transportation Safety Board. Only weeks later he was called into service in the wake of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, according to the obituary Amy Rabideau Silvers wrote for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

She quoted the 58-year-old priest, known to many as “Charlie Chaplain,” who died in April:

“I was hesitant to talk about my experiences, because it is so easy to exploit this tragedy,” he said in an article for a Priests of the Sacred Heart newsletter. “It’s not just a news story. . . . To be a part of people’s pain and suffering, to see and even smell the devastation, you just can’t capture that in a news story.”

He served for two weeks in New York City, first working with families and sometimes escorting them to ground zero. Then he helped at a respite station for those working at ground zero.

Sometimes people asked why God let such a thing happen.

“I can’t tell you why this happened,” he would say.

“I would give them a different question: ‘What now?’ How am I going to roll up my sleeves, get busy and make this situation better? . . . That’s harder. But that’s what we need to do.”

I love the way Silvers started Bisgrove’s obit:

Father Charles Bisgrove was a good man to have around in times of loss or crisis.

His friends and colleagues could use his calm, kind presence now. As if the sudden death of Father Charlie was not bad enough, he is not there for them to turn to.

The stories in Bisgrove’s Guest Book reflect the loss his many friends feel.


This post was contributed by Alana Baranick, a freelance obituary writer. She was the director of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers and chief author of Life on the Death Beat: A Handbook for Obituary Writers before she passed away in 2015.