Rev. Charles F. Suver, 86, Jesuit Priest Who Said Mass On Iwo Jima

The Rev. Charles F. Suver, the Jesuit priest who said Mass atop Mount Suribachi shortly after the historic flag-raising at Iwo Jima during World War II, has died at the age of 86.

Father Suver, born in Ellensburg and educated at Seattle College, now Seattle University, died Easter Sunday from an inoperable brain tumor, SU and Jesuit officials said. He had been residing at the Bessie Burton Sullivan Skilled Nursing Residence on the SU campus since his cancer diagnosis in November.

A liturgy of Christian burial was celebrated yesterday at St. Joseph Church on Capitol Hill. Burial was scheduled for today at Mount St. Michael's Cemetery for Oregon Province Jesuits in Spokane.

A former chaplain at Gonzaga University in Spokane and chaplain at the Park Rose Care Center in Tacoma from 1986 to 1992, Father Suver was well-known throughout Jesuit community, both locally and around the world.

With a reputation as a powerful speaker, he was selected to give one of the homilies, or sermons, for the 50th anniversary of the Jesuits' Oregon Province in 1982. The province covers Alaska, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

"He had a profound impact on the Jesuits because of his personal integrity. His word was his bond. He would go the extra mile for you. He was extremely loyal and dependable," said the Rev. John Murphy, senior superior at Jesuit House on Capitol Hill.

Perhaps Father Suver's most famous moment came when, as a

39-year-old Marine Corps chaplain, he and other clergy accompanied the Marines who landed at Iwo Jima in 1945 for the bloodiest battle of World War II in the Pacific.

The Rev. Donald Crosby, a Jesuit priest, recounted in a 1989 article for Company, a Jesuit magazine, how Father Suver had just finished supper with some Marines. One officer declared he was sure he could get an American flag from his landing craft to hoist on top of Mount Suribachi, which dominated the island. Another officer jumped into the conversation and said he was sure that he could get the flag to the top of the mountain.

Father Suver then piped up, "You get it up there and I'll say Mass under it."

On the fifth day of battle with the Japanese, Feb. 23, 1945, the Marines secured the mountain. Father Suver, true to his word, climbed to the top of Mount Suribachi and celebrated Mass beneath Old Glory.

Some 20 exhausted Marines gathered around him, shortly after the victorious flag-raising was captured on film.

Murphy said Father Suver constantly discounted the celebrity status he achieved with his mountaintop Mass. "He said the most extraordinary thing about Iwo Jima was being with his men, watching their heroism under fire and seeing their care for each another," said Murphy.

Father Suver would later write that the conquest of Mount Suribachi paled as a military victory because of the men who were killed on Iwo Jima.

Still he found immense value in his chaplaincy work, tending to the wounded and dying. He wrote his parents, John and Josephine Suver, who were living in Seattle, "Don't worry about me: I am where I want to be and doing the things that I want to do."

More than 22,000 marines were killed or wounded during the fighting on Iwo Jima, from Feb. 19 to March 26, 1945. The Japanese force of 23,000 soldiers was virtually wiped out.

After the war, Father Suver returned to Washington and spent 15 years giving weeklong spiritual renewal sessions in parishes throughout the Northwest and California.

He and the Rev. Frank Toner, another Jesuit priest, did so much traveling on these missions that they wore out a car every year, Murphy said.

From 1971 to 1981, Father Suver did marriage counseling work in Portland, followed by counseling and retreat work in Seattle and Spokane.

He was a leader in the marriage encounter movement, where married couples would come together to renew their marriages spiritually at weekend retreats, according to the Rev. Brad Reynolds, director of communications for the Oregon Province headquartered in Portland.

"He had an incredible wit, a tremendous sense of humor," said Reynolds.

Reynolds said Father Suver had a somewhat crusty exterior, "an old military exterior."

But once you punctured through it, he was a very warm individual, said Reynolds.

"Chuck genuinely loved being a priest - caring for people, especially people who were hurt, who were in spiritual pain," said Reynolds.

"He was this crusty old grandfather figure who at the first sign of pain would wrap his arms around you and comfort you."

Father Suver was born on Sept. 7, 1906.

Father Suver is survived by two cousins, Doris Tobin and George Mead, both of Seattle, and three nephews, Robert Suver of Yakima, John Suver of Spokane and Chet Suver of Seattle.

Remembrances may be made to the Oregon Province Retirement Fund, 2222 N.W. Hoyt St., Portland, OR 97210.