Monsignor William Henry McDougall, a leading figure in the Salt Lake Catholic Diocese who died this week at age 79, was an authentic hero in more ways than one. He was a war hero, but in the more important day-by-day living of life, he was a champion for compassion.

As a newspaper reporter in the Far East at the outbreak of World War II, the native Utahn - who started his career on the old Salt Lake Telegram before going to work for the United Press - was a daring journalist, escaping Japanese house arrest in Shanghai and making his way to Java to report on the fighting there.As Java fell to Japanese invaders, McDougall missed the last flight to Australia in order to file one more story. He hitched a ride on a Dutch freighter, but it was sunk.

It was while drifting in the wreckage in the sea, that he vowed to take up religious service. After three years in a Japanese prison camp, he returned to Utah and embarked on the training that eventually led to his ordination to the Catholic priesthood.

In that capacity, he became a priest and rector at the Cathedral of the Madeleine for more than 20 years, taught at Judge Memorial High School, and was editor of the Intermountain Catholic Register. He was known for his tireless work in behalf of the homeless, long before those unfortunates became the social issue they are today.

William Henry McDougall clearly had courage, enterprise, and dedication. But best of all, he had compassion that showed itself in every-day deeds. That's a legacy and example that outshines even wartime heroics.