Reverend Peter Cooney, CSC
Born County Roscommon, Ireland: June 20, 1822/1832?
Peter Cooney’s family immigrated to the United States, settling in Monroe, Michigan, when Peter was still a child. There Peter received his initial education and on reaching manhood, he opted to attend the University of Notre Dame and after graduation the seminary there to study for the priesthood, being ordained in 1859.
When War broke out, Fr. Cooney joined the US army and after some months of inactivity, was assigned to be chaplain of 35th Indiana (1st Irish) - indeed by the time the war was over, Fr Cooney had become the longest-serving Catholic cleric in the US Army; serving from October 1861 until September 1865. As the majority of the 35th Ind. Were, either Irish or of Irish descent, a Catholic priest was widely welcomed, and Fr. Cooney was quickly accepted by the men of the regiment. He went on to endear himself to the men by his “gentleness regarding any misconduct while encouraging tremendously all when the call to duty prevailed.”
At times whenever the priest saw the green flag or heard an Irish tune, his blood rose and he would forget his pastoral duties and take a musket, ready to do his share until the men of the 35th would coax him back to his proper role. Rev. Cooney was made caretaker of the men’s pay and at times distributor of same to the families back home-a task he fulfilled whenever he got a leave of absence and also he was president of the regiment’s “Temperance” movement. Like his more famous counterpart, Fr. Corby, Fr Cooney famously gave absolution to the regiment prior to going into battle. At Murfreesboro (Stones River), over the New Year period of 1862/63, he gave the following: “Boys….this is a New Year; many of you will never see the sun go down today; I desire to say to you a few words. You are an Irish regiment. Your countrymen have already proven their devotion to the flag of the nation by their courage and stamina on the field of battle. The eyes of the division are on you. Your friends at home expect much of you—you must not disappoint them. Now, then, many of you have not been to your religious duties. All of you make a good Act of Contrition, sincerely ask God for your forgiveness and I will announce the absolution.” Following this, a rousing cheer was given for Fr. Cooney, and his words would be proved correct, by the end of the day 127 men of the 35th Indiana were dead, wounded, or missing.
Fr. Cooney would remain with the 35th for nearly 4 years, spending his time praying and caring for the men and the casualties, when the need arose. In September 1865, he was ordered to return to Notre Dame, where he carried out his religious duties until his death in 1905.