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Altar Ego: The Ex-Priest and the Death of a Beauty Queen

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Irene wrote to a friend just before Easter that she had gone on a few dates with two men, one of whom she described as "this Anglo boy — not real handsome, but cute and religious (which is important). He is a member of the Legion of Mary and goes to Mass and receives Holy Communion every morning."

When she disappeared, police first assumed she had run off with a man. Police interviewed dozens of young men who had shown interest in dating her.

Her family and friends knew better.

When she borrowed her father's car the Saturday night before Easter, she said she was going to church for confession and that she would be right back.

Irene always did what she said she would do.

Besides, she was dressed casually. She had taken none of her possessions.

Irene was helping plan the Easter egg hunt the next morning for the children of the parish. Her family speculated that she may have had to talk to a priest about the logistics of the event.

Family members believe that is why she telephoned the church before leaving the house, asking to meet with a priest.

Father John Feit, a guest priest at the church helping out with the pre-Easter confession crunch, answered the phone.

Irene Garza then drove the 12 blocks to the church to meet with Feit.

Feit's story of what happened next changed several times over the following weeks and years. Now, he refuses to speak about that meeting or the critical hours and days that followed.

Two years ago, after the case had been reopened, a Texas Ranger called Feit at his Phoenix home.

The Ranger asked Feit to speak to him about his role in the events that Easter weekend in 1960. Feit's answer was as opaque as it was potentially illuminating:

"That man doesn't exist anymore," he said, hanging up the phone.


John B. Feit grew up on the south side of Chicago in a devoutly German-Catholic household.

It was in the rough and vibrant Chicago of the 1940s, and Feit lived in a neighborhood of working-class families.

Much of the neighborhood was Irish, much of the priesthood was Irish. He developed an accent that faded from south-side Chicago to Irish brogue.

His uncle, also named John, was a priest in Detroit. His parents hoped that one of their sons would become a priest.

At age 13, John was sent to San Antonio to begin his religious education. He became a priest in Texas in 1958 within the Order of Mary Immaculate. A year later, he began a one-year internship program based out of a pastoral house run by the Oblate Fathers in the valley town of San Juan, Texas.

From that house, Feit and several fellow OMI priests took classes at nearby Pan-American College and helped fill in at parishes in nearby McAllen and Edinburg.

Father Feit often helped Father Charles Moran at Sacred Heart Church in Edinburg. Through the spring of 1960, he also often stopped by the rectory in Edinburg for coffee with Moran and the church secretaries.

Easter weekend of that year, Father Feit was asked to help Father Joseph O'Brien and his two associate priests give confession and offer Mass at Sacred Heart Church in McAllen.

Like every Easter weekend, it was a hectic time for priests. Confession lines and pews were bloated with visitors, children back for holiday and the multitude of Catholics who practice their faith only at Easter and Christmas.

The three priests and the visiting priest gave confessions that morning, then from 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday afternoon.

At 6 p.m., they returned to the rectory for dinner. The priests would resume confessions in the church at 7 p.m. Irene Garza phoned the church rectory and spoke to Feit just before 7 p.m.

Witnesses saw Irene walking from her car to the church about 7 p.m.

Witnesses saw three of the four priests return to the church from the rectory at 7 p.m. The visiting priest, Feit, thin, dark-haired, with distinctive horn-rimmed glasses, was not with them.

Witnesses said they then saw Irene Garza walking to the rectory.

At 7:20 p.m., Irene was seen walking from the rectory.

She was last seen by witnesses about 8 p.m. outside the church.


Two days after Irene disappeared, one of her high-heeled shoes was found alongside a road on the edge of McAllen.

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Robert Nelson