Chaplain Fleury brings healing touch to High Desert
January 13, 2011
FORT IRWIN, Calif.-Fort Irwin and National Training Center chaplain Lt. Col. Joseph Fleury had dreams of healing others as a child, but in the physical rather than the spiritual sense.
However, all that changed when he was knocked out of bed at the tender age of 14 and answered the call to the priesthood a year later. The next 40 years have been marked by 30 moves around the globe as Chaplain Fleury is a healer of spirits and souls.
"While I always wanted to be a doctor, the Lord has called me to be a spiritual doctor, a healer of souls and spirits, ministry of reconciliation," he said.
After attending a religious retreat by Marist priests, Chaplain Fleury said, "I went to my mother and father, I said, 'I want to leave to leave home and go to seminary.'"
His father's immediate response was "Like hell. No son of mine is going to leave at 15 and go to seminary," Chaplain Fleury recalled, adding that "My mother in her wisdom said, 'If it's God's will, it will be.'"
A month later, his father relented and gave his blessings and permission for him to leave for seminary, where Chaplain Fleury spent the next 18 years preparing for his ordination as a priest.
During that time, a Marist priest Chaplain Robert Brett was killed at Khe San, Vietnam, and Chaplain Fleury, then in minor seminary, was tasked to serve at his funeral in 1968 during the height of the Vietnam War.
"I was so touched by the experience of sending him to heaven that I said, 'Good Lord willing I want to continue his work some day,'" he said. "That was '68, so 20 years later that dream came true."
In the summer of 1988, Chaplain Fleury was granted a release from the Marists to the military archbishop for endorsement to the Army.
During his 22 years of service to God and country, Chaplain Fleury has made 17 PCS moves, with his latest being from Hawaii to Fort Irwin and the National Training Center.
"At my farewell at Hawaii, I said, 'You know very often I don't get to see the benefits of the fruits of my work, but perhaps the Lord has called me in my life to plant seeds to be a planter rather than a reaper and I truly believe that,'" he said.
Chaplain Fleury said he loves lifestyle the culture and the calling above all else: to serve and to minister both God and country.
"I really am blessed to experience the best of both worlds: to do my duty as an American citizen and also to serve God as a believer," he said. "The benefit is I've been able to plant seeds and touch people throughout the world and I can say I have friends throughout the world, good friends, very close friends."
Much like his predecessor Col. Dennis Newton, Chaplain Fleury said he felt God's hand in his move to Fort Irwin.
"I had a rough weekend just overwhelmed with work and ministry in Hawaii and said, 'God, I don't know how I'm going to survive this. I'm burning the candle at both ends,'" he said. "I went into work that Monday morning and I'll never forget it there was an e-mail from the PER, the Chief of Chaplains personnel director said, 'The Chief of Chaplains has decided Chaplain Fleury will be going to Fort Irwin.' Immediately I was at peace with it."
Unlike many of his previous moves, Chaplain Fleury was able to visit Chaplain Newton and the Fort Irwin/NTC religious support staff prior to assuming his duties as the installation's command chaplain because two weeks after receiving his orders to Fort Irwin, Chaplain Fleury performed a wedding in San Diego.
"I got permission to do a couple of days up here just to meet with Chaplain Newton and some of his staff and just to get eyes on the ground," he said. "That was very helpful in the transition. It was great because I saw him in operation."
Now that Chaplain Fleury is on the ground in the High Desert his goal is to continue growing and developing the existing programs and services already in place.
"Wherever the Soldiers are at we, as an institution, have got to do our best to go out and meet them on their ground, whether it's a contemporary service, whether it's through counseling, whether it's through or communing with nature," Chaplain Fleury said. "Whatever their experience of the Divine, the Other is, we've got to be extremely flexible to do our best to meet their need."