By Emma Perez-Trevio
The Brownsville Herald
McALLEN A former McAllen priest with a history of criminal activity and
nervous breakdowns said he had nothing to do with the murder of a beauty queen
he was linked to and was fooled by a child-molesting priest he cleared to
continue serving at parishes around the country.
John B. Feit, who has shied away from just about all inquiries into his
troubled past, told The Brownsville Herald on Friday that he doesnt know who
raped and suffocated to death Irene Garza in 1960 then dumped her body in the
Second Street canal.
I didnt do it, said the 69-year-old Feit in an interview from his Phoenix
home. I had nothing to do with her death. I can honestly say that.
But Feits association with Garzas killing keeps resurfacing. He heard her
confession on the night of Saturday April 16, 1960, three days before her body
was found floating in the water. Police believe he was the last person to see
her alive. Garzas car was still in the parking lot of the Sacred Heart
Catholic Church on 15th Street in McAllen where Feit heard her confession.
What made Feit, now a grandfather, a prime suspect for police was his assault
of a 20-year-old teacher in Edinburgs Sacred Heart church a month prior to
Garzas unsolved murder is still considered an open case by McAllen police
despite being more than 40 years old and stale. However, interest in Feit and
some criminal acts hes been linked to has been rekindled because of the
national spotlight on priests and their behavior.
Many Roman Catholic priests throughout the country have confessed to the abuse
of women and children and many who have been abused have come forward.
Some of Feits deeds became public after a City of McAllen-produced TV show
called Open Files aired a show about the case last year.
McAllen Police department investigators have since refused to provide any
information on the case after initially saying they would. They did provide a
tape of the segment, however.
The Herald filed a request for information under the Texas Public Information
Act, but the police department has maintained it is an ongoing case. It has
been forwarded to the Texas Attorney General for an opinion.
Still, what records show is that Feit was charged with assaulting a young
woman in an Edinburg church, questioned by police about Garzas murder
(including taking lie detector tests that were inconclusive), moved to
Chicago, endured nervous breakdowns then was sent to New Mexico where he
supervised a congregation that included Priest James Porter, who has been
accused of molesting at least 100 boys.
Feit, who left the priesthood 30 years ago, did not apologize for what he had
been convicted of or for his connection to Porter, a sexual predator.
In 1960, Feit was a 28-year-old priest assigned to the Rio Grande Valley
probably the first assignment of the then-recently-ordained priest in San
Antonio, officials of his former order, the Missionary Oblates of Mary
Immaculate, said Thursday.
Later that year, Garza was killed and Feit was swept up in a decade-long
spiral of incidents, beginning with the Garza murder that was a sensation in
I could understand why it (the murder) made the waves that it did, Feit
said. It was a trying time for a lot of people. It was red hot back then.
Irma Garza, co-producer of the city television program who was able to access
the case files, said the lie detector tests administered to Feit had been
They brought the people that invented the polygraph test, said Garza, no
relation to the victim. Witnesses said that they were in line for confession
and they waited and waited and waited and he wasnt there.
After being grilled about the Garza killing, Feit pled no contest to a reduced
charge of aggravated assault of Maria America Guerra, the 20-year-old teacher
he attacked while she knelt down to pray in the Edinburg church.
I was out of the loop, Feit said. I didnt know that I would be convicted
and found guilty on a plea of no contest. I didnt know what that meant.
Feit maintains that he was in the midst of a nervous breakdown during this
time and insisted he did not assault Guerra.
Soon after getting out of court and paying a $500 fine, he was sent to the
Loyola University in Chicago to pursue studies. During his stay there, Feit
says he suffered another nervous breakdown when President John F. Kennedy was
assassinated in November of 1963.
Next, Feits order sent him to the Holy Servants of the Paraclete, the Jemez
Springs, New Mexico treatment center for troubled priests. Within five years
he became the Superior, or administrator of the center.
As supervisor of the Holy Servants of the Paraclete, a religious congregation,
that was apparently created to treat troubled priests, Feit had a part in
clearing Porter for assignments to parishes where he continued his attacks.
I tell you, the man had me fooled, Feit said. He was deceptively charming.
Feit said he relied on a doctors clearance of Porter, whose mental health was
examined. Porter went on to serve at parishes around the country where hes
been accused of continual abuses.
The present leader of the Paracletes, who oversees the order and the New
Mexico center from his base office in Missouri, was stunned to hear of Feits
criminal past when told by The Herald.
This is obviously something that is shocking, said Paraclete Servant General
Fr. Peter Lechner. What kind of effect did his administration have when he
had pled no contest to assault? I am deeply concerned of what happened back
Lechner has been at his post for over a decade and did not serve in his
capacity when Feit was there. However, Lechner says hes concerned about the
allegations of misconduct.
Certainly, this is something that is leading me to ask questions to myself,
he said. I am so sorry.
Others in McAllen also feel the loss. Schoolmates and others called Irene
Garza very religious and a great friend.
The family took it very, very hard, said Minerva Barrera, who went to high
school with Garza. Her mother was just devastated. They had pictures of her
all over the house.
Garzas parents are now dead, but they had a prayer, the victims sister told
the TV program.
It was my parents wish, as well as mine, that the person who did this ask
for forgiveness because we dont want him to be damned for eternity, said
Josie Garza. We want him to go to heaven.