St. Ann's Priest Promoted To Army Colonel

Published in The Milton Independent Edition Thursday, February 17, 2011


Members of St. Ann’s Parish are used to seeing the Rev. John Feltz in his usual priestly getup for Sunday Mass, and many of them know he wears another uniform as chaplain in the Vermont National Guard.

Just recently, though, Feltz’ military blues just got a little brighter with a new pin: a full-bird colonel. He was promoted from lieutenant colonel on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2011.

The application first had to pass inspection at the state level before it was forwarded to Washington, D.C. At the Pentagon, it went through 14 offices before being voted on by the U.S. Senate.

Feltz chose Steve Burke, a former Air Force Honor Guard member, and Ed Malila from the Knights of Columbus to pin his uniform at the ceremony at Camp Johnson.

Burke, a St. Ann’s parishioner, was glad to be a part of Feltz’ pinning. Feltz was previously his priest in Orwell before they both came to Milton, and Burke has since become Feltz’ chauffer to-and-from deployments.

“I was very honored and humbled by him asking me to do this,” Burke said, later adding, “It’s not something that happens all the time.”

Feltz was recently deployed to Camp Phoenix, Afghanistan as the only Catholic chaplain with the Guard’s Brigade Support Battalion out of Northfield. He was previously sent to Iraq in 2005.

Ken Lane, a fellow St. Ann’s parishioner, said Feltz deserved the promotion for all the work he did this deployment as troops’ spiritual counselor. Lane’s son, Shawn, was stationed at Camp Phoenix with Feltz, and Lane felt comfortable knowing his hometown priest was there.

“He’s very approachable and easy to speak with,” Lane said. “I’m sure the troops found that out.”

Lane said Feltz is humbled by his promotion.

“That’s Father,” he said. “That’s the way he is.”

Lane was right. Feltz stayed relatively mum about his military accomplishment and gently brushed off questions about his efforts to help soldiers find their spiritual center.

“Spirituality is important, your daily prayer life,” Feltz said, when asked how he kept himself grounded in a warzone. “That way you don’t become the messiah. You realize you’re God’s instrument.”

Feltz conducted daily mass while overseas, and on Fridays, he’d travel with his personal security detail of three Humvees to different area camps. As a chaplain, Feltz has no weapons training.

Feltz also served outside normal work hours. He’d counsel anywhere from five to 20 soldiers a week of the 300 members of the BSB, not all of them Catholic.

“That means you have to know about their faith background and be sensitive to it,” Feltz said. “You’re not there to convert them.”

Feltz, who holds doctorates in psychology and pastoral counseling, joined the Army Guard 15-and-a-half years ago. He said he’s motivated to help soldiers because their needs are more pronounced than the average Joe’s.

“They’re trying to do their work in the warzone,” he said, adding, “If their mind is not on that, they’re not going to be safe for themselves or for their companions.”

When accidents and injuries happen, Feltz said faith and spirituality can help deal with feelings of guilt. If a soldier is killed, their buddies will often feel they’re to blame, Feltz said.

“Spirituality gives you a way of backing away, allowing yourself to really be true to what you’re really dealing with: you miss your loved ones,” Feltz said, adding that this helps troops realize that everyone is human.

“We all make mistakes, and as God loves and forgives us, we can forgive ourselves and move on,” he said.

Lane said Feltz preaches this message in his homilies.

“He would say stuff like, ‘You made a mistake. Here’s another minute: What are you going to do with it?” Lane said. “It’s up to you. You’re either going to dwell on the mistakes you make or trying to take the next minute to improve yourself or get closer to God.”

Burke, who was deployed to southeast Asia and Korea, said he never had a chaplain, let alone a priest from his hometown. He said he relied on his faith to keep his mind on the task at hand.

“When you’re there by yourself, and the family is back in the U.S. – yeah, it would be hard for people without faith,” he said. “It would be difficult to keep centered and on track.”

But Feltz said having faith isn’t always easy. When terrible things happen, some people begin to question their faith, asking how any higher power could let such a thing happen. Asked how he responds to that reaction, Feltz had an answer at the ready.

“First of all, God’s not causing,” he said. “There’s a difference between allowing and causing. Second, if you want God to intervene, all of a sudden you take away a person’s free will, and the greatest gift we have is our own free will.”

Burke said someone like Feltz is perfect for guiding soldiers back to their right path. Fellow soldiers might tease their peers for wanting help, but not Feltz, he said.

“He’s really easy to talk to and non-judgmental and just a really good guy,” he said. “Anything that you tell a Catholic priest – that’s the end of it. I think that all of those things added together did and does make him seem like a great candidate for that position.”

Henry A. Raymond
February 22, 2011