Fisher of Men

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE GA. --

Forty-Seven years as a priest, thirty-eight as an active duty chaplain, Father Thomas Fey says he’s had a double vocation since he was a young boy – to serve God and Country.

Father Fey began his journey in 1958, when he was just 12-years old, explaining his catholic grammar school had left a resounding impression on him. Continuing his education through the seminary was what he says he felt he needed to do.

Years later, he found himself studying philosophy, theology and learning how to preach and write scriptures. During this time he found himself maturing and growing more within his faith. However, the country was also evolving.

The U.S. became heavily involved in the Vietnam War in the early 1960’s, thrusting many of Fey’s friends into a fierce, foreign, conflict.

“I was still in seminary but I knew what was going on,” Father Fey said. “A lot of the troops in Vietnam were people I knew. I felt I should be with them, to help them mentally and spiritually. The timing just wasn’t right; I had to wait to be ordained.”

Father Fey explained that the Catholic Church, other than World War I, had a policy which outlined that young priests should serve in a parish for three years before joining the military. During WWI and the way the draft was done, an entire section of men from one area would be drafted and sometimes that group was mostly catholic.

Young priests from the same area would feel compelled to go with them and stay with them through the course of their military obligations, ultimately leaving the Catholic Church short on priests.  

Fey made the decision to commission within the Air Force Reserve as a military chaplain in the early 1970’s. During that time, he served in the reserve while simultaneously completing his three-year requirement at St. Rita’s Perish before the Bishop released him to join active duty.

“I came into the active duty at the tail end of Vietnam,” Fey said.

He missed the war but still dealt with the repercussions it had on the community and the people he knew.

Throughout the course of his military career, Father Fey would be given the chance to be with deployed troops. He was sent to Kuwait twice and Iraq once.

Father Fey explained that many times when troops have issues or problems that they don’t want to relate to their friends in the field, they will talk to the chaplain to begin to deal with whatever that issue might be.

“Almost every time, the troop ends up talking with their work mates later on,” Fey said. “Helping that troop find the confidence and guidance they need in order to deal with the issue is what we’re there for.”

When Father Fey retired as a wing chaplain, he said he knew there was a shortage of priests at the time. He felt he needed to stay because there weren’t many people readily available to replace him.

Fey explained there are about 15 GS priests and 19 contracted priests Air Force wide and that he is one of them.

“I’m here to focus on being a priest,” he said. “To provide ministry to people.”

When Father Fey has a day off, he’s often found fishing.

“The apostles were fisherman and Jesus used fishing analogies a lot,” he said. “Jesus would say “I will make you fishers of men,” and so I became a fisher of fish and later in life, a fisher of men.”