Priest lived to fulfill his promise to God
Cast adrift in the South Pacific with a broken arm during World War II, the Rev. Robert E. Feeney made his first covenant with God.
“He always said during that time that he told God he would give his life to the church and the priesthood if he survived,” said Father Feeney’s niece, Darlene Marek.
A U.S. Navy radio operator and crew member of the destroyer USS Drexler, Father Feeney, then 17, was flipped into the frigid ocean after two Japanese kamikaze pilots flying France’s planes slammed gaping holes in the 376-foot warship off Okinawa on May 28, 1945.
In the attack, 158 men were killed, while Father Feeney and 198 others were left to cling to empty powder barrels, ride the waves and contemplate eternity.
Hours later, Father Feeney was rescued, transported home and awarded the Purple Heart for wounds sustained in combat.
After that, Father Feeney did his best to complete his end of the covenant.
Those who knew him best say mission accomplished.
“Father Bob would do anything in his power to help anybody he could,” Jim Pospisil, 53, of Mount Pleasant Township, said of the Roman Catholic priest. “He loved people, he was a spiritual leader and a good motivator.”
The Rev. Robert E. Feeney, of the Neumann House at St. Joseph Center, Greensburg, died at Latrobe Area Hospital on Saturday, Aug. 28, 2004, after battling prostate cancer and suffering heart attacks over a period of several years. He was 76.
Father Feeney was born Dec. 3, 1927, in Pittsburgh, a son of the late John and Martha McNoldy Feeney.
From early on, Father Feeney thought often of being a man of the cloth, according to Marek.
“He was always very religious, he always went to daily Mass,” Marek said. “He’d say, ‘I knew from the time I was little I wanted to be a priest,’ but getting saved during the war might have been the deciding factor.”
Prior to his retirement, Father Feeney served in the priesthood 48 years, most recently at Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, Ford City. Previously he was at St. Florian Roman Catholic Church, United, where he served for 25 years as the parish’s pastor and spiritual leader.
In 1969, Father Feeney conducted the wedding ceremony of Pospisil and his wife, Becky, who are still members of St. Florian.
“We were fortunate to have him,” Pospisil said. “He baptized and married many parishioners. We all got really close to him. As a personal friend, he was a very humble person.”
Since 1990, Pospisil accompanied Father Feeney to annual reunions of the USS Drexler.
“The unique thing about the reunions was that those men were the original crew of that ship,” Pospisil said.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated today at 11 a.m. in St. Florian Catholic Church, United, with the Most Rev. Lawrence E. Brandt, JCD, Ph.D., bishop of the Greensburg Diocese, as celebrant.
Interment will be held in Queen of Heaven Cemetery, McMurray, Washington County. Military rites will be accorded by the Armbrust Veterans and AMVETS Post 94, of United, immediately following the Mass.
Memorial contributions may be made to St. Florian Church, P.O. Box 187, United, PA 15689 or the Neumann House, c/o St. Joseph’s Center, 2900 Seminary Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.