Sunday, June 21, 2009

In Knoxville, "We Are All Crushed"

In one of the nation's fastest-growing dioceses, this Father's Day finds the folks mourning a Mom -- Nancy Feist, a mother of five and assistant to two bishops of Knoxville, died suddenly Friday night at 43, along with the sixth child she was expecting in September with her husband, Dave, an elementary school teacher in the East Tennessee church.

After suffering an embolism at a baseball game, Feist was rushed to a hospital. While attempts were made to save the baby -- quickly baptized by a local priest and named Peter -- both were lost.

Once parishioners of then-Msgr Joe Kurtz in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley, the Feists move South in 2000 saw them reunited with their former pastor, who became bishop of the sprawling Volunteer Country diocese two years earlier. By 2004, her eldest three in school next door to the Chancery, the former freelance writer took up in the Bishop's Office as executive secretary; Kurtz was transferred to Louisville in 2007, and Bishop Richard Stika arrived as the new boss earlier this year.

Also survived by both her parents and four siblings, a joint funeral for Nancy and Peter is scheduled for Wednesday in Knoxville, with Stika and Kurtz slated to lead the rites. On hearing the news, the bishop rushed home from the road; Stika will celebrate a first memorial Mass tomorrow in Sacred Heart Cathedral for the diocesan staff.

In the meantime, friends have set up a memorial page, the diocese is sponsoring a fund for the kids and efforts are underway to coordinate helpers for the family over the coming weeks and months.

On the ground, a friend of Feist's put it this way:
We are all crushed....

I've never known anyone so relentlessly cheerful -- not in a forced, fake way but genuinely cheerful, even under great stress. She always believed a positive outcome was ahead of us and that we could get there. She was a unifying force....

Nancy was a great reconciler -- always wanting to help people resolve their differences and work together for the good of the church.

She loved our priests and the two bishops she served, and she treated everyone who called or visited the bishop with the greatest respect.

Nobody was better at keeping a confidence. And I think she probably could have run a Fortune 500 company with one hand tied behind her back.
While no loss is ever easy, some are beyond words.

This is one of them, and Knoxville's loss is a loss for us all.

If you could, gang, storm the Smokies with your prayers.

PHOTOS: Mary C. Weaver/East Tennessee Catholic(1); Deacon Patrick Murphy-Racey(2)