June 14 – Happy Birthday Father Anthony Sidoti

The two uniforms of Father Anthony Sidoti
The two uniforms of Father Anthony Sidoti

It is all together fitting that on this Flag Day Sunday we celebrate the birthday of Father Anthony Sidoti. Born in Brooklyn on June 14, 1914, Father Sidoti’s parents moved upstate to Amsterdam seven years later and lived in homes on both Forbes and Union Streets. Devoted Catholics, the Sidoti’s were parishioners of St. Michael’s Church and young Anthony was a student at St. Mary’s Institute, graduating from there in 1930. He then graduated from Niagara University and made the decision to go into the priesthood, which culminated in his ordination in 1940. His celebratory first mass took place at his home Parish, a packed-to-the-rafters St. Michael’s Church and was followed by a dinner at the Elks Club on Division Street, attended by well over 100 guests. Amsterdam Mayor Arthur Carter was one of the speakers and in his remarks referred to the war then going on in Europe, telling the assemblage the world needed more young men like Sidoti to lead us in prayers for peace.

As we now know, those prayers were not answered and Sidoti, whose first church assignment was assistant pastor of Mt. Carmel Parish in Gloversville, NY, enlisted in October of 1942. He became Chaplain of the US Army’s 358th Infantry Regiment of the 90th Infantry Division. At first he saw action in the Pacific and then was transferred to the Atlantic theater. Stationed in Ireland, he crossed the Channel with the invasion forces and remained with them on their march to Germany. Along the way he put his own life in danger on a consistent basis, tending to the injured and dying on the battlefield. In France, he won a Silver Star with Oak Clusters during the Moselle Crossing, when he established an aid station in an abandoned cement plant and worked around the clock retrieving wounded American soldiers from the front. He was shot at by a German sniper twice and had two bullet holes in his field jacket to show for it. He also took fragments to the shoulder from an enemy grenade, while administering to a wounded soldier. Before being sent home, this fearless priest was awarded a second Silver Star, the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart, making him one of the most decorated Army Chaplains in history and a genuine war hero.

When he returned home after the war, he served as associate pastor of St Mary’s Parish in Frankfurt for two years before getting assigned to Albany’s St. Anthony’s Parish where he would remain for the next 22 years. He was made the first Director of the Bishop’s Fund in 1955 and in that role he helped get Bishop Scully High School built a decade later. In 1957, Father Sidoti was also appointed Chaplain of NYS National Guard, a position that had been left vacant since the end of WWII. His final church assignment was Albany’s St Thomas Parish, where he remained until he died in 2004 at the age of 89.

I first found out about Father Sidoti a few years ago from John Pepe, former Montgomery County Commissioner of Public Works. John had just begun an effort to publicize and honor Father Sidoti’s war record. He had first met the priest when he was a teenager working in his Dad’s eatery, Pepe’s restaurant on West Main Street in Amsterdam. Father Sidoti used to treat some of his Altar Boys from Gloversville’s Mt Carmel parish to spaghetti and meatball dinners at Pepe’s. Amsterdam author Bob Going dedicates an entire chapter to Father Sidoti’s heroism in his outstanding book, “Where Do We Find Such Men?”

I never served in the military. I have no idea how I would respond under fire. I’d like to think I would have made a decent soldier but that’s strictly a guess on my part. But I’ll tell you what. If I was in a battle and saw this Father Sidoti selflessly putting himself in extreme danger not for the purpose of doing harm to the enemy but instead to bring aid and comfort to my wounded and dying comrades it would be both a huge inspiration and comfort to me. Its an honor to share a birthday with this special man. May he Rest in Peace.

 

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