McNeill (above, seated), a WWII veteran who served under General Patton, received a Purple Heart after being captured during the Battle of the Bulge and spending six months as a German prisoner of war. But the real fight came some years later, in the late 1950s, when NcNeill became a Roman Catholic priest. Aware he was gay, McNeill tried to stifle his same-sex attractions—an effort that nearly caused him to take his own life.
“I was in graduate school in Europe when I began to act out sexually and compulsively. I found myself at the point of suicide because of this. I was miserable and desperate. One night, I was about to throw myself into the Loire River, when a message came over me— maybe it was Jesus or the Holy Spirit—saying ‘Hang on. This doesn’t make sense to you now, but it will. This is preparation for your ministry.’”
When I returned to the States, I became a teacher and began to study homosexuality. I read an article by a fellow Jesuit who condemned homosexuality as a serious illness and said that homosexuals are guilty of spreading that illness to their partners. I began to write the opposite. I also decided that I was going to find myself a lover.”
McNeill began ministering to gay Catholics and eventually founded Dignity New York, a chapter of the national LGBT group for members of the faith. After Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, demanded that Father O’Neill be silenced and that his gay ministry be driven from the Church, McNeill was expelled from the Jesuits in 1988. Now 85, he lives in Hollywood, Florida, with Charlie Chiarelli, his devoted partner of 45 years.
He stands as a living reminder that fighting battles doesn’t end when you leave the military.