Commentary

Father Everett Briggs
Near Martyr and a Most Unforgettable Priest

When I began writing this article, I could not decide whether or not to include it under our ‘Modern Day Saint’ category. Although Father Everett is a modern day saint, a near martyr, an outstanding priest, an author, a poet, a professor, a crusader and a remarkable man, it is too early to submit Father Briggs’ name for sainthood. He is still alive at age 97 and more mentally alert and active than most people of any age. He demonstrates this in everything from his enlightening letters to The Defender to utilizing billboards to fight injustices against the Church and inform people of the Catholic faith.

Father Everett comes from a missionary family. Influenced by the devout faith of his mother, he became a Maryknoll priest at the age of 25. His younger brother, Arthur, followed his example. In the 1930’s, Father Everett was assigned to Japan where he established a Catholic Mission. A few years later, his brother, Father Arthur, was assigned to a mission in China. Father Arthur spent only a few years in China before he was brutally stabbed defending the Sacred Tabernacle during a robbery of his mission. Father Arthur achieved a partial recovery and in 1944, was taken from China to the United States by two other priests. He was hospitalized in the US for some time and recovered enough to teach in Maryknoll Colleges. He went to his Lord in 1987 at the age of 78.

Meanwhile, Father Everett suffered similar experiences. He was taken prisoner by the Japanese on the day after they bombed Pearl Harbor. On that eighth day of December 1941, when he emerged from his church after conducting morning Mass, six local policemen waited for him. He was asked what he knew and had heard over his radio. He replied that he had given his radio away to his housekeeper a few months before. At that point, the church catechist told Father the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. Both were imprisoned. Other parishioners were imprisoned in an attempt to coerce them to denounce Father as a spy. As Father said, “It came with poignancy[.] I shall not soon forget that the Good Lord was suffering in the persons of these poor, frightened souls. I determined that I never would be maneuvered into the position of a spectator who looks [with] resigned and indifferent mien upon the sufferings of his hapless friends. So I would go on a hunger strike. Somehow I felt this would allow me access to the fray.”

He went on the hunger strike in a very unprofessional way, denying himself fluids as well as food. After three days of no food or liquids, his natural immunity was affected. He suffered kidney failure, joint problems, and his general health declined. His jailor worried that Father would die on his watch and talked of releasing the parishioners, none of whom had incriminated the priest. The jailor did not want to be blamed for derailing the prospective exchange of prisoners.

The next day, his captors sent a doctor who gave him an injection of sorts. As the doctor pushed the needle into his right arm he felt his heart coming to a stop. Just then, a Maryknoll Missionary, Brother Hansan, came in to the room and shouted to the doctor, “His face is turning black!” The doctor panicked and immediately withdrew the needle. The blood leaped out of the vein, empurpled and then angry red. The doctor exclaimed, “This is the first time this has happened to me!” Father Everett lived through this experience and to this day is unable to fathom the mystery of why he was almost killed as a prisoner of the Japanese. To the police he was a conundrum – an enemy who was willing to suffer for his parishioners, but his jailors did not want him to die. If he were a spy, his crime was punishable by death – but they had no evidence. Did the doctor make a mistake? Not likely a mistake of that magnitude. Father was sick for years with heart disease until he was miraculously cured at Lourdes years after his repatriation in 1942.

Father subsequently served as professor of Japanese languages with the United States V-12 Training Program. Thereafter he taught on the high school and collegiate level for seven years. From 1950 to 1956, he served as a chaplain in hospitals and nursing homes in the Los Angles area. It was here he developed compassion for the elderly and the ill.

In 1956, he was sent to Monongah, West Virginia, to take over priestly duties in a small parish. The year 1957 brought with it the 50th anniversary of the Monongah Mine Disaster. Father realized that no one had done anything to memorialize the hundreds of men and boys who died on that tragic day in December 1907. As Father noted, “There was not even a fence post to honor the coal miners who died in one of the nation’s worst coal mine disasters.” He called together Sisters and volunteers and told them the memorial should not be a statue, a plaque or a picture to admire, but rather a living, working memorial to help those in need in this area. That is how St. Barbara’s Memorial Nursing Home was born – to meet the needs of the elderly ill, many of them stricken with coal miners’ lung disease. St. Barbara’s, named after the patron saint of miners, grew to be a great facility housing over 1,500 patients during its many year of operation, some residing as long as 20 years. A friend of his stated, “What a beautiful legacy to leave.”

His other legacies are numerous. His poetry has been published in American journals since 1925. In 1996, he published Across the Bridge, an anthology of some 650 poems. It was his twelfth book! Six were written in Japanese. He is a member of the International Poetry Hall of Fame, and his books are available on the Internet.

In addition to building memorials and monuments to others, Father has received many awards himself, including the American Freedom Medal. And, because his ancestral name was Bridges, he has had three bridges named after him including one in Monongah. He and his brother, Father Arthur, share a memorial scholarship awarded by St. Patrick Parish in Stoneham, Massachusetts, where both were alumni.

Even though Father Everett is himself, at 97, a resident of St. Barbara’s Nursing Home, his accomplishments continue to this day. He has designed and financed billboards attacking the anti-Christian leanings of our social institutions and the desecration of the painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary at a museum in Brooklyn. Another billboard depicted the tears and message of Mary at the miracle of Akita, Japan. One to be completed is to
Jiang Zongxiu the woman martyred in China as reported in the last issue of The Defender. His billboards have been written up in The Catalyst.

Father’s latest dream is to build a memorial to the wives of the coal miners of West Virginia who (in his words) worked seven days a week, often raised six, eight or ten children in a company camp house without indoor plumbing and only an open fireplace for heat. They grew big gardens and washed clothes on a washboard. These women deserve a fitting memorial.

God Bless You, Father Everett! We all pray, every day, for more and more priest like you.

 

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