Anslem pg 5 7-3-19

By Ronald P. Coderre
Around the end of 1917 and the beginning of 1918, while WWI was raging in Europe and the American “doughboys” were engaged in battle with Germany, the need for chaplains of all denominations to care for the spiritual needs of the troops was growing desperately.  Bishop John J. Nilan of the Diocese of Hartford asked for volunteers from among the priests under his jurisdiction in Connecticut.
A young curate from St. Mary’s Parish was one of more than 40 priests who answered the bishop’s call.  His name was Anselm Mayotte.  This courageous young man would spend approximately six months on the front lines with the American troops in some of the worst conditions experienced by the U.S. military in the history of our country.  He would eventually surrender his life for our country on Dec. 5, 1918; just six days shy of his 30th birthday.
Father Anselm Joseph Mayotte was born on Dec. 11, 1888, in St. Dominique, Quebec, Canada.  He was the son of a blacksmith, Albert Mayotte and Mathilde Bonneau.  While still a young man, Mayotte’s family immigrated to the Quinebaug section of Thompson.  Mayotte’s childhood was spent much like many youth of his time, although early on it became apparent that he was destined for religious life.
Mayotte left Bartlett High School in Webster in the fall of 1906 and enrolled at St. Thomas Seminary in Hartford, where he spent five years studying for the priesthood.  He concluded his studies with three years at St. Sulpice in Paris and two years at St. Bernard Seminary in Rochester, N.Y.  He was ordained by Bishop Nilan at the cathedral in Hartford on June 10, 1916.
Prior to embarking on his WWI chaplaincy assignment, young Father Mayotte spent 13 months tending to the spiritual needs of St. Mary’s parishioners in Putnam, as well as serving as principal of the parish school.
Upon his entry into the military, the popular priest was commissioned a chaplain with the rank of 1st Lieutenant on Feb. 1, 1918.  His departure from St. Mary’s left a void with the members of the congregation although they were proud of the young curate while saddened at the same time.
Mayotte described his voyage across the Atlantic as “uneventful and monotonous” with life boat drills twice a day.  He did say daily Mass and hear confessions while on board the ship.  Upon landing he went through an eight-week officer training course and a special 10-day course for chaplains.  On May 3 he was assigned to the 102nd Infantry Regiment, where his life would be anything but uneventful and monotonous.
During the next seven months Father Anselm J. Mayotte would be in the middle of and witness first hand some of the fiercest and most treacherous military action and conditions the U.S. had ever encountered.
Making his way to the 102nd Regiment Headquarters in the combat zone, Chaplain Mayotte “began to hear the continuous roar of the cannons.”  His steel helmet, which seemed so large when it was issued, “now seemed ridiculously small.”  His stay with the 102nd would be short.
On June 15, 1918, Mayotte was transferred to the 2nd Division, specifically to the 12th Field Artillery Regiment.  Coincidentally, his transfer came at a time when the troops were taking part in the month-long effort to blunt the German offensive at Belleau Wood and nearby Vaux.  Although he was still a relatively new chaplain, Mayotte took to his assignment like a veteran.
He remained with the men despite daily shelling and other enemy activities.  He wrote, “I am living in a tent in the woods and like this open-air life very much.  Of course, there are many hardships and privations but I do not mind these because by sharing these with the men, I find is the best way to gain their confidence and sympathy.”  In addition to saying Mass in the open air and hearing confessions, Mayotte, on horseback, visited the doughboys in all six batteries in his regiment.
This was the essence of his duty.  He summarized it up writing, “The one desire of the soldiers is to be at the front.  It is my desire too, and in spite of the dangers and hardships, I hope to be at the front until the end.  That is where the chaplain can do his best work.”
On the morning of July 14, the 12th Field Artillery began a grueling 24-hour march.  For Mayotte he came to know war in all its awful aspects.  He described what he saw in a letter, “the dead lying everywhere, the ground plowed by shells, giant trees uprooted or broken as if they were mere toothpicks, villages destroyed, here and there an aeroplane dashing to the ground, dead horses lying about.”
He concluded by writing, “war is hell and no matter how horrible the description may seem, they are not exaggerated.”
On Sept. 11, Mayotte along with the 12th Field Artillery received orders to move into place for the attack on St Mihiel.  The scene as described by Mayotte was dark and rainy with a chilly north wind.  Horses were moving in mud and water up to their knees.  And although he personally wore a waterproof trench coat he was drenched to the skin.  When he alit from his horse he was in water and mud up to his ankles.
At 1 A.M. and for the next seven hours the sound of 3,000 artillery pieces exploded in the otherwise still air.  Mayotte described the scene, “It was as if hell had suddenly broken loose upon earth.”  Through all this mayhem and destruction Chaplain Mayotte tended to the spiritual needs of the soldiers as well as assisting with the wounded.
The battle of St. Mihiel proved to be an astounding success and a turning point in the war, which led to the signing of the armistice on Nov. 11.  Chaplain Mayotte now became, with the 12th Field Artillery (2nd Division), part of the Army of Occupation.
Shortly before Thanksgiving 1918, a mere two weeks following the signing of the Armistice, Mayotte and his unit were near Buchehofe, Germany, when he was transported to a hospital in Echternacht, Luxemburg, with full-blown flu symptoms.  He died on Dec. 5 of bronchopneumonia.  Following a solemn High Mass at St. Wilbrordus Church, he was buried there the following day.
In his eulogy, Chaplain Mayotte’s battery commander praised the young priest: “Padre was a brave and true soldier.  Nothing was too hard for him to do if Duty called.  I’ve seen him do things as a matter of course which I would stop and think about.  And I am not considered a coward.  Padre has left a place in our hearts which it will take a long time to fill if at all.  His sense of humor and good nature can never be forgotten…. Padre gave his life for his country just as surely as if he had been killed in battle.”
Chaplain Anselm Mayotte’s remains were returned to the U.S. in 1920.  In November of that year in what is described in the Wednesday, November 3 edition of the Windham County Observer as “A most fitting and impressive tribute was paid to the memory of Rev. Anselm Mayotte.”
The article goes on to say that St. Mary Church was filled to capacity, “where many had been occupying pews since 6 a.m. that they might be well placed for the service.  Several hundred persons who could not find seats waited outside the church for the opening of the solemn High Mass of Requiem.”  The Mass was celebrated by Rt. Rev. John J. Nilan, Bishop of Hartford.
Dignitaries and clergy from throughout Connecticut and the surrounding area were in attendance for the solemn ceremony, which included military honors.  The funeral sermons were preached by Rev. John Charles Mathieu, who spoke in French and Rev. G.C. Brady who gave the address in English.  Rev. Charles F. Bedard, pastor of St. Mary Parish, expressed his feelings, noting the high regard in which Father Mayotte was held by the people of St. Mary and Putnam.
On Aug. 12, 1919, with approximately 125 members in attendance at the former Union Hall, a vote was taken and ratified naming Post #13, American Legion Anselm Mayotte Post #13.
As American Legion and Post #13 celebrate their 100th Anniversary, the memory of Rev. Anselm J. Mayotte lives on.  He’s remembered as a person who was loved by all who knew him, for his sense of humor and his love of God and country.  He was a person who went beyond the call of volunteerism during a time when his country and American men were fighting for the freedom enjoyed by Americans today.
It was Chaplain Mayotte’s desire to help others in the most heroic fashion, by giving his life for his country, that he is remembered as Putnam and St. Mary Church, priest and patriot.
(Excerpts in this article have been cited from the book, Sky Pilots, and the November 3, 1920 Windham County Observer.)
Editor’s note: The Mayotte-Viens American Legion Post #13 of Putnam is celebrating its 100th anniversary this summer. It was named in honor of Anselm J. Mayotte and George Viens, two local veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice.  The feature on Viens will appear July 11.


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