During World War II, on January 23, 1943, the USAT Dorchester set out from New York en route to Greenland carrying about 900 service men, merchant seamen and civilian workers. On board were four chaplains: Methodist minister the Reverend George L. Fox, Rabbi Alexander D. Goode, Roman Catholic priest the Reverend John P. Washington, and Reformed Church in America minister the Reverend Clark V. Poling.
In the early morning hours of February 3, 1943, at 12:55 a.m., the ship was torpedoed by a German submarine. The ship’s captain, alerted that the Dorchester was quickly taking water and sinking, gave the order to abandon ship. The chaplains sought to calm the frightened, tend the wounded and guide the disoriented toward safety, organizing an orderly evacuation of the ship. The chaplains opened a storage locker and began distributing life jackets. When there were no more lifejackets, the chaplains removed theirs and gave them to four frightened young men.
In less than 20 minutes, the Dorchester would disappear beneath the water’s surface. As the ship went down, survivors in nearby rafts could see the four chaplains--arms linked and braced against the slanting deck. Their voices could also be heard offering prayers.
One witness reported, "I could hear men crying, pleading, praying, I could also hear the chaplains preaching courage. Their voices were the only thing that kept me going."
According to some reports, survivors could hear different languages mixed in the prayers of the chaplains, including Hebrew Jewish prayers and Latin Catholic prayers.
A one-time only posthumous Special Medal for Heroism was authorized by Congress and awarded to the Four Chaplains by President Eisenhower on January 18, 1961. In 1988, February 3 was established by a unanimous act of Congress as an annual "Four Chaplains Day." On June 6, 1990, Cub Scout Pack #23 dedicated a tree in honor of the Four Chaplains. That tree is located on the corner of Monmouth and Livingston Roads in front of the Rectory.
Father Washington was ordained a priest on June 15, 1935. His first parish was St. Genevieve's. Father Washington, Rabbi Goode and Rev. Poling and had all served as leaders in the Boy Scouts of America