Sometimes the behavior is a mixed bag.

Father John Thenen was a priest who served for many years at my home parish, St. Joseph's in Yorkville in New York City.  Father Thenen was born and raised in Germany so his appointment to St. Joseph's was a fitting one.  St. Joseph's had a large German-speaking constituency.  The church was founded in the late 1800's as a "national" church.  At one time most of the congregation were German-American immigrants.  A "national" church was under the review of a "regular" parish whose pastor was to see that the national church did not go astray.  Father Thenen became a close friend of my family and was a particular comfort to my mother whose health was not good and who was unable to attend weekly Mass.

Father Thenen did not come to America until after WW II.  Like many young German men he was drafted into and served in the German army during the war.  Thenen told the army officials that he was not going to kill anyone.  Did they make this conscientious objector into a clerk, or a truck driver, or a medic or a cook?  No, they made him a machine gunner.  Thenen was sent to the eastern front where the German army was locked in a death struggle with the Russian army.

One day in 1944 Thenen's position was being attacked and overrun by Russian forces.  True to his conscience Thenen fired his machine gun into the air above the heads of the oncoming Russian soldiers, hitting no one.  Thenen then began his career as a prisoner of war.  He was sent to the bitter cold of eastern Russia.  The Russians really didn't care whether or not their German prisoners survived.  Thousands of prisoners died due to starvation, lack of medicine and the bitter cold.

John Thenen was not freed until late in 1946.  The Russians were in no hurry.  John used his freedom to follow his vocation to the priesthood.  When I met him he was a man in his fifties.  He wore the heaviest orthopedic shoes that I have ever seen.  He walked with a slight limp at times.  His feet had been a frozen mess.  He let it slip that at times he had to sleep on the floor because of the pain in his arthritic back.

Father Thenen was a gentle and godly priest loved by all the people he generously and cheerfully served.  Besides his priestly duties Father Thenen continued his avocation as a symphony-quality organist.  St. Joseph's had a huge, wonderful organ that is listed on the New York City Historical Register.

In the period between the end of the ten o'clock service and the next service at half past eleven, Father Thenen would slip up to the choir loft "to make a little noise."  He was particularly fond of Bach.  Some members of the congregation praying quietly in the pews would levitate when he began to play.

I sometimes wondered about his wartime decision.  His position was stormed.  Those Russian soldiers were the enemy.  He and his comrades were taken prisoner.  Perhaps some of his fellow soldiers were even killed in the attack.  I thought to myself that if I had been his superior officer watching one of my men neglect his duty with such dire consequences I would have shot him on the spot.  What a waste that would have been!

Father Thenen, like so many WWII vets, never spoke about the war.  He had been an enemy soldier.  He never spoke about his two-year stay as prisoner of the Russians.  He was not fond of the Russians.  If he had died the world would not have had many years of a wonderful priest.  It is as a fellow historian observed to me, that as Father Thenen's generation now rapidly fades away, with each death it is almost as if a library is burning down.