Dedication and persistence are two character traits I especially admire, and a person I’m close to has them in abundance.
I might be biased, but my uncle, Terry Figel, has set an example of these traits for more than half a century as a priest and chaplain in the United States Air Force.
Father Terry, who turned 80, was ordained a priest 53 years ago as a member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate after spending 13 years in the seminary. Eight years later, having served as a pastor in Denmark, he became a chaplain in the Air Force, rising to the rank of colonel before retiring to return to parishes in Illinois, Florida and Minnesota.
When people say to him, “Thank you for your service,” he’s not sure which service they’re referencing, especially if they’re Catholic. He has dedicated himself to his church and his country, with a special emphasis on helping individuals and families.
His service can be measured in the list of places he’s been assigned: Godfrey, Ill.; Carthage, Mo.; Pass Christian, Miss.; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Ft. Worth, Texas; Alabama; Arkansas; Mexico; Chicago; West Palm Beach, Fla.; Duluth, Minn.; Denmark and Air Force bases in California, Illinois, Turkey, Germany, Texas and the Aleutian Islands.
Wherever he’s gone, he’s done his job, and it’s not always been easy. He’s encountered extremes of weather, from the brutally cold winds off the coast of Alaska to a hurricane in South Carolina. From the heat and humidity of south Florida to the blizzards of northern Minnesota.
In service to his church and country, he has made it a point to show understanding and compassion, visiting individuals and families in their homes, especially those who were sick or in need of counseling.
In his first assignment as a priest was in Denmark, where he had to master a difficult language. Eight years later, he answered a calling to enter the Air Force as a chaplain.
I’m sure he didn’t mind military assignments to southern California or coastal Carolina. But it took some courage to report to the icy Aleutian Islands (where, after a severe earthquake, the base was cut off from food and supplies for a week). And it took some nerve to head to Turkey, where during a revolution, the base was occupied by rebel forces.
When Col. Figel left the Air Force, he had hoped to work as a priest in an Hispanic parish, so he spent time in Mexico learning Spanish. But he was assigned to an inner-city African-American parish in Chicago, which had almost no Spanish-speaking parishioners.
In his late 60s, he was assigned to parishes in Alabama and Florida where he adapted to the heat and humidity. Then it was off to Duluth, Minn., which often has some the coldest temperatures in the contiguous 48 states. He went dutifully to each assignment, though he often wasn’t thrilled.
Recently, Father Terry has experienced some health issues. He is living in an assisted living facility on the grounds of his order’s longtime home at the shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, Ill. He hopes to be given ministerial assignments there so he can continue to encourage others.
As he has all of his life, Father Terry relies on his faith. He is a person who has always tried to exemplify essential Christian virtues of compassion and understanding and hope.
Above all, he values love. When I attended the celebration of his 50th anniversary of his ordination, I was impressed by the love he showed parishioners and the love they returned.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. At the Mass during that celebration he sang out from the altar one of the most memorable lines of Christian scripture: “God is love. And he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” Everyone who has known Father Terry has experienced such love.
We are all faced with obstacles and challenges. The best of us respond with courage and love, just as Father Terry has done.
ON ANOTHER NOTE: On Aug. 13, the Los Banos Elks Lodge will present “The Cost of Freedom,” remembering POW and MIA military members. Beginning at 6:30 p.m., the event is free and open to the public.
John Spevak is a resident of Los Banos; he wrote this for the Los Banos Enterprise. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.