A man on a saintly mission

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If you go to Edward "Ted" Bronson's Arlington apartment, you'll see just about every inch of wall space covered in awards from his years as a Navy pilot and administrator. Scattered in with the military kudos are photos of popes and politicians, and important friends like astronaut Neil Armstrong. But some of his most prized honors are for his work on behalf of a Navy chaplain killed in the line of duty in Vietnam more than 45 years ago.

Bronson, 81, is a man on a mission.

The retired U.S. Navy captain took up the cause of recognition and sainthood for Maryknoll Father Vincent R. Capodanno, a U.S. Navy chaplain from Staten Island, N.Y., who died Sept. 4, 1967, ministering to U.S. Marines on a battlefield near the village of Que Chau in Vietnam.

According to the book, The Grunt Padre by Father Daniel Mode, a priest of the Arlington Diocese, Father Capodanno's last words were, "Stay quiet Marine. You will be ok. Someone will be here soon. God is with us all this day."

For his valor on the battlefield, Father Capodanno was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1968. For his holiness, he was proclaimed "Servant of God" in 2006. Bronson hopes the path for Father Capodanno leads to sainthood.

Bronson was born Dec. 3,1932 in Havre de Grace, Md., but grew up in Wilmington, Del. He was educated in Catholic schools, graduating from Salesianum High School in Wilmington in 1950 and La Salle University in Philadelphia in 1954 with a bachelor's degree in industrial relations. His education continued at the University of Chicago where he earned a master's in mass communications in 1958.

Bronson said he had a "fleeting vocation" to the priesthood, but he chose a military career instead. He remains staunchly Catholic, a parishioner of the Washington Navy Yard Chapel.

He served seven tours in Vietnam, the first in 1963. He said it was his guardian angel that kept him safe in combat. The 13th Station of the Cross - Christ is taken down from the cross - was frequently on his mind when he was stationed in Vietnam. He was thankful his mother did not have to bury him like Mary did Jesus.

In 1976, Bronson became only the 25th naval aviator to achieve 1,000 aircraft carrier landings. For his service to his country, Bronson was awarded the Navy's Legion of Merit along with many other awards.

After the war, he continued his naval career. In 1983, he was chosen to head the implementation team that formed the Naval Space Command in Dhalgren, Va., finally retiring in 1985 from the staff of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

After retirement, he served in high-level positions with corporations, including director of congressional relations for Miltope Corp. in Long Island, N.Y., and scholarship chairman for the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, D.C. Chapter, where he awarded more than $2 million in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM scholarships.

In 2007, he became involved with Father Capodanno's cause. Bronson said he had never heard of the "Grunt Padre" before being asked by a friend to help get the message out about the heroic priest. He became the special events coordinator and adviser to Mission Capodanno, an organization that serves U.S. Armed Forces chaplains and personnel.

Bronson proudly calls himself an operator, someone who gets things done quietly behind the scenes.

"If someone says no, it doesn't bother me," he said adding that he finds other ways to achieve his goals.

Bronson admits the sainthood cause is out of his control. It's in the hands of the church, and the case will move forward based on the evidence.

Military Services Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio announced last September the formation of the Father Vincent Capodanno Guild as "the only organization authorized to serve as the petitioner for and supporter of" the Cause for canonization of Father Capodanno.

But the path to canonization can be daunting - and expensive. Bronson said the process begins with paperwork sent to Rome for initial approval. Father Capodanno was proclaimed "Servant of God" by then-Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services. The next step is the submission of the positio, a package of all writing related to the cause of sainthood. If the pope approves it, and a miracle supports it, Father Capodanno will be named Venerable. More evidence, including a miracle, can result in him being proclaimed blessed. The final step is to be recognized as a saint.

It's the recognition and remembrance of Father Capodanno that drives him now.

He's traveled to Rome and Vietnam countless times - last year he flew 86,000 miles on behalf of the cause.

As soon as he started working at Mission Capodanno, in 2007, Bronson has worked to get annual memorial Masses celebrated around the world. The first was at the Washington Navy Yard Chapel in 2007. His efforts helped establish memorial Masses in Gaeta and Rome in Italy and Da Nang, Vietnam.

His latest mission is to help fund the Capodanno Vietnam Chapel near Da Nang.

After a visit to Da Nang last year and after walking the battlefield where Father Capodanno was killed, he promised Da Nang Bishop Joseph Tri he'd raise money to build the chapel. So far he's collected more than $30,000.

Bronson has worked with Cardinal O'Brien and Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services to help make the chapel a reality. Retired Marine Corps General Peter Pace has pledged his support.

There are nine chapels around the world named for Father Capodanno, but the one planned for Da Nang near the place of Father Capodonna's death is special.

Bronson sees his work on behalf of Father Capodanno as something not merely driven by a sense of duty.

"It was the right thing to do," he said. "There was no reason not to."

Bronson said that his life has been blessed, and he is optimistic about the case for sainthood, and about himself.

"I wanted to live long enough for the positio to be submitted," he said. "Now I want to live long enough for (Father Capodanno) to be named Venerable."

Borowski can be reached at dborowski@catholicherald.com or on Twitter @DBorowskiACH.

Find out more

For information and to make a donation to the Capodanno Vietnam Chapel go to capodannovietnamchapel.org or email Ted Bronson at efbronson@aol.com.

For information on the sainthood cause or to make a donation, go to capodannoguild.org.

A memorial Mass for Father Capodanno will be celebrated by Military Services Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio Sept. 4 at 6:30 p.m. at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2014