This remarkable letter was written by Chaplain John Chidwick, the chaplain of the Battleship MAINE, to the family of John Bennet [Bennett], a Marine serving aboard the ship who was killed in the ship's explosion.
Bennett was apparently not the the deceased Marine's true name. It is unclear why he used an alias while in the Navy. His actual name was Michael Harrington. It is thought that he was born about 1875 in Adrigole, County Cork, Ireland and that he attended Catholic seminary in Dublin before enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Records indicate that he enlisted as a private in the U.S. Marine Corps as John Bennitt/Bennett on August 11, 1893. He enlisted at the U.S. Marine Recruit Rendezvous located at 18 State Street in New York City for a period of 5 years. He had indicated that his date of birth was September 28, 1864, and that he was born in Dunmanway, County Cork, Ireland, and was residing at 286 East 26th Street, New York. He also indicated that he was employed as a waiter. Given that he was enlisting under an alias, it is unclear how much of the data he provided at the time of enlistment was factual.
Bennett/Harrington was transferred to the Marine Barracks Brooklyn,
New York on August 11, 1893. He was eventually assigned to the Battleship
MAINE. Evidence of his service abors the ship is
sparse but the Ship's Deck Log for Sunday, May 16, 1897, indicated that
he was “absent/overtime” (remained ashore when he was expected to return
to the ship, which could have been for valid or invalid reasons). After
the ship's loss. The private's remains were identified by the chaplain
John Chidwick of the MAINE, and was buried with
other victims of the explosion in Havana’s Cristobel Colon Catholic Cemetery.
John Bennett/Michael Harrington was later reinterred, along with other
MAINE victims buried in Arlington National Cemetery
under the name of "J. Bennet” in Grove 15751, Section 24 (Main Section).
The letter below is addressed to Johanna Harrington of Fall River, Massachusetts. She was Michael's brother. The letter is addressed to "Johanna Harrington, 204 High St., Fall River, Mass" and is postmarked May 4, 1898. It appears, from the tone of the letter, that Chidwick wrote the letter in response to a letter received from Miss Harrington.
The letter shows several unusual items. First, apparently, the chaplain
clearly remembered his duty in the time immediately following the explosion
before the ship was abandoned. With the explosions going on around him,
and the ship sinking, Chidwick indicates that he gave absolution to all
of the crew. Also, the letter indicates that the Sacred Heart Society was
active aboard the ship. Lastly, the letter indicates the tenuousness of
the evidence used to identify the bodies. Bennett is listed among the dead,
and not missing, based on the data Chidwick indicates.
Havana, Cuba March 2 
Dear Miss Harrington,
I grieve with you most profoundly in your awful loss. Your brother was a good man. I do not remember a Sunday when he missed mass, when he could have attended. He was a faithful member of the Sacred Heart society and daily recited his decades of the rosary. I think he was at his communion at Christmas and I know he was preparing for his Easter duty. These are many consolations, especially when we know that an all-merciful God will judge him who has more pity on our dead that we ourselves have. You know it is a promise of the Sacred Heart to grant the blessing of a happy death. When I came on deck during the disaster, I immediately granted absolution. May we not hope that this had its Effect on good souls as his was.
I do not know if I have recovered the body, I mean, to identify it. It is most likely that the body has been recovered and I think I have identified it. We received a body about his size, with Marine underclothing, and faintly marked on the clothing J.B. The letters washed out but I an certain they were there. I believe this is the body of your brother. If so, it lies buried in the Catholic cemetery of Havana and was interred with Catholic rites.
Recommending you to the consolations of Holy Mother Church and begging a remembrance in your prayers for myself and all our men here living and dead.
John P. Chidwick"
Smith, R. T., Head, Ships' Deck Logs Section, Officeof Naval Personnel, U.S. Navy (Correspondence with William P. Sullivan concerning records of John Bennett/Michael Harrington)