Behind the Collar with Father Dennis Fedak


September 19th, 2018, By Randy Pagnotta

When you think of the New York Yankees many things can pop into your mind: World Series Championships, Hall of Fame players, legends of the sport and some of the most memorable plays and players ever to play Abner Doubleday’s pastime. After hearing Father Fedak’s story and learning of his passion for baseball, the Yankees and Phillies, an endearing memory came to mind of one Yogi Berra, a true pinstripe legend as there ever was and two of his many Berra-isms – “when you come to a fork in the road, take it” and “It aint over ‘til it’s over”.

Father Fedak has a very outgoing, engageing and enthusiastic demeanor about him with animated expressions that are in line with his Spanish/Hungarian heritage. A New York City boy born in Manhattan on August 3rd, 1947 to Carmen and Frank Fedak he grew up in Queens and Freeport Long Island, NY. Father Fedak attended Freeport H.S. and worked as a bus boy and waiter at Guy Lombardo’s restaurant in Freeport while attending high school. His Father Frank was a policeman and his Mother Carmen was a homemaker. When Father Fedak was in high school his mother went to work as a waitress. Both his mother Carmen (1968) and his father Frank (1974) have passed as well as his younger and only brother David (1973).

The first fork in the road – Uncle Sam, two or four? In 1966 Father Fedak was making plans for what he would do after high school graduation. He had thoughts of becoming a policeman like his father. Before we had the all volunteer Army conscription into the armed services, commonly known as the draft, was conducted as it had been for all five previous conflicts of the United States; the American Revolution, Civil War, WWI, WWII and the Cold War which included Korea and Vietnam. The police academy had to wait as Father Fedak was drafted and he chose to enlist into the United States Air Force for four years. It wasn’t until later in 1969 when the country changed to a lottery to establish a draft priority of all those born between 1940 and 1950, 366 blue pills with a birth day and month were drawn. He served honorably as a Jet Mechanic and did 15 months in Southeast Asia before mustering out in 1970.

The second fork in the road – the police academy or private sector? Father Fedak served four years in the Airforce in Texas, New Jersey and Southeast Asia. Prior to his discharge from the Airforce in 1970 Father Fedak went back to his original plan of becoming a policeman. He made application to the police academy which included a thorough screening process and was accepted. However he said “after what I saw in the war I decided that police work was not what I wanted to do”. So with the acceptance into the Police Academy already in hand Father Fedak decided instead to go into the private sector to try to figure things out.

The third fork in the road – who’s calling, Sony or God? As they say the third time is the charm. Father Fedak was enjoying a successful career in audio sales, so much so that Sony had offered him a very nice position to lure him away from his current employer. Father was also very involved in his Church, Mary Mother of the Redeemer in North Wales, PA. He was on the finance committee, cooked and was a receptionist. During his career he won many trips and awards which he donated to the Church for them to raffle off. He said he began to change the way he was praying, “instead of praying to close a business deal I began to pray for thanksgiving for my feet, a simple but important aspect of life we take for granted”. This time he had to tell Sony he would not be joining their team as he made the decision to join God’s team and become a Priest.

This was truly an amazing twist in Father Fedak’s journey because although raised Catholic his family did not go to Church regularly primarily going on Christmas and Easter. He said however “from the time I was very young I always felt a strong connection to Jesus”. Although he did not know it then looking back he felt this is where his discernment to become a Priest actually began. Later on as an adult he began to do research into the history of the Church at the Lansdale Library. He came to understand that his spirituality and connection to Jesus, reinforced by his research into Church history, would best be expressed religiously through the one true Catholic and Apostolic Church. He went on to say with no hesitation that “Catholicism was the only legitimate Faith”. He credits this enlightenment and also two other major influences for his vocation, his mentor Monsignor Phillip Ricci at Mary Mother of the Redeemer as well as Father James Devlin, St. Jude Parish, “who was the first priest I spoke with about the Priesthood and he went on to become a good friend”. Father Fedak sadly recalled “Father Devlin passed away during my first year in the seminary”.

It ain’t over ‘til it’s over – At the age of 42 Father Fedak made inquiry into attending St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. He told me he was actually hoping he would not be accepted. But he was accepted into the seminary and he began his 7 year journey of formation to become a Priest. In a seminarian class of 22 men from all over the area and country he was the oldest and affectionately picked up the nickname “Pop-pop”. He joins former Corpus Christi Priests Father Wackerman and Father Carey who coincidentally were also part of that seminary class. Ironically he felt it was not his age that proved to be the most difficult adjustment it was, “the communal living at the Seminary where after years of living on my own, I only had a small room with a small bed.” What was the reaction to his pronouncement that he wanted to become a Priest, “We knew he would”. It was not a surprise at all to those who were closest to him. He was 50 years old when he was Ordained. His Patrons are The Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph. On May 17, 1998 Father Fedak celebrated his first Mass at Mary Mother of the Redeemer. Also in 1998 he received his first assignment at St Cyril of Alexandria in Delaware County where he served for 5 years. From there he went on to St. Cecilia in Fox Chase for 3 years. Then in 2006 he was named Pastor of Our Lady Help of Christians in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia and in 2009 he was also named Pastor of Nativity BVM. He was Pastor for both Parishes for 8 years where his duties also included the difficult task of consolidation and closing of beloved Catholic Schools. He taught deacons for 12 years on the Letters of Saint Paul. Deacon Steve Currie was in the last class he taught. Father smiled when I asked him if there was a cause effect to Deacon Steve being in the last class he taught.

He is now at Corpus Christi as a Senior Priest. After years of being a Pastor with many weighty administrative responsibilities he said he feels blessed, “now that I am in the fourth quarter of life I can focus on Pastoral duties which is a little less stressful”. Because of his previously living in the area he feels very familiar with Corpus Christi Parish. He was amazed at how much the area has changed since he last lived here. Coming from the city he said “I really can appreciate the beauty and serenity of the campus here”. Father enjoys sports especially baseball. He played baseball in high school and softball as an adult. He is a lifelong Yankee fan and a big Phillies fan. When he was younger he enjoyed skiing and playing tennis. Father Fedak enjoys music of all types particularly rock n roll, Mozart and Oldies. He developed a passion for photography and became very proficient with the camera and even sold some prints. While at the seminary he used his talents to take pictures of dignitaries that would visit. He has traveled to South East Asia, Mexico, Guatemala and Italy. Although he used to like to travel he said, “I now prefer to only go to places I can get to by car”.

He shared his thoughts on the Catholic Faith today; “Perhaps due to many factors not the least of which are the recent negative priestly scandals, that instead of a falling away we are witnessing a purging”. He echoed the sentiments of Pope Benedict XVI when he told me “the Church may have to get smaller before it can get bigger”.

When asked what challenges the Faithful will need to be prepared for going forward he said without hesitation “adjusting to fewer and fewer priests to provide for our pastoral needs. There will be challenges with less priests, but there is also redemption in suffering”. What is his biggest enjoyment in exercising his duties as a priest; “Saying Mass and bringing Jesus to the people”. “I say every Mass as if it were my first and I receive communion as if it were my very last. I never feel worthy enough but I feel called to do it”. His advice to anyone thinking about a vocation as a priest, he said with a smile, “You never know”. He would like to talk with them, get to know them first. Then he feels he would be better prepared to give advice. Reflecting on the the time I spent with Father Fedak I thought of yet another apt Yogi Bera-isim, “Where there’s a will, I want to be in it”.