Father Vernon A. Holtz, O.S.B., a monk of Saint Vincent Archabbey for 66 years, died Tuesday, September 20, 2022. A Hastings, Pennsylvania native, born September 30, 1930, he was a son of the late Andrew E. and Marie Holtz. Surviving are one brother, John Holtz of State College, and numerous nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by four siblings, Virginia Weakland, and William Holtz, who were Hastings residents; Patrick Holtz, who lived in Highland, Indiana, and Allan, who resided in Monongahela, and their respective spouses.
Father Vernon’s roles and contributions to the whole of Saint Vincent have been many and varied, from serving as assistant headmaster at Saint Vincent Preparatory School to coaching basketball and soccer at the Prep, from serving as director of the Counseling Center at Saint Vincent College and the priesthood formation program for Saint Vincent Archabbey, to serving as chairman of the Department of Psychology at Saint Vincent College and teaching in the department. All those roles were in addition to his service as a priest, as he celebrated the 60th anniversary of his ordination on June 2, 2022.
Father Vernon attended Hastings Public Grade School and graduated from Hastings Public High School in 1948. He received a bachelor of science degree in education from Lock Haven State University in 1953 and then attended Saint Vincent College. He received a master of arts degree in counseling psychology in 1967 from the Catholic University of America, and a doctorate in clinical psychology in 1984 from Duquesne University. His doctoral dissertation was “Being Disillusioned as Exemplified by Adults in Religion, Marriage or Career: An Empirical Phenomenological Investigation.” Father Vernon also received a master of arts degree in theology from Saint Vincent Seminary in 1973. He was licensed as a psychologist in the state of Pennsylvania in 1976.
He made simple profession of vows July 2, 1956 in the Saint Vincent Archabbey Basilica. He made solemn profession of vows July 11, 1959, and was ordained a priest June 2, 1962 in the Archabbey Basilica by Bishop William Connare of the Diocese of Greensburg.
Father Vernon was assistant headmaster at Saint Vincent Preparatory School from 1962-1968; was a prefect, teacher, counselor, basketball and soccer coach at Saint Vincent Preparatory School from 1958-1971. He was director of the Counseling Center at Saint Vincent College (1971-1975), while also directing the priesthood formation program for Saint Vincent Archabbey (1971-1974).
He served as chairperson of the Department of Psychology at Saint Vincent College (1975-1980), and resumed those duties (1987-2000), while concurrently teaching in the department as an associate professor. From 2000 to 2001 he was acting Academic Dean of Saint Vincent College.
He was appointed to the Archabbey Human Resource Council (1985-2001) and the Council of Seniors (1985-1999), the College Search Committee for Academic Dean (1993, 2001), Search Committee for Dean of Students (1999), Rank and Tenure Committee (1995-2011), and was chair of the Faculty Retention and Recruitment Committee (1998-2001). He was named faculty emeritus upon his retirement in 2018.
He spoke frequently at conferences dealing with existential phenomenology and its understanding of the relationship between the psyche and the spirit, or mental health and spirituality, including, to the Pennsylvania Psychological Association, Duquesne University, the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, Gannon University, Latrobe Area Hospital, and Pennsylvania State University Campus Ministry. He also gave addresses to the Pittsburgh Association of Priests, the Greensburg Mental Health Association, and the National Association of Mental Health. He contributed to the book Religion and Spirituality: Steps Toward Bridging the Gap, edited by Stephen Honeygosky, O.S.B. (2006).
Beginning in 1998, he was involved in ongoing research through the University of Missouri at St. Louis, which attempted to show the impact one’s spirituality has on the physical healing process.
In the fall of 2010, Father Vernon was instrumental in founding and implementing the lecture series, “Aging and Spirituality,” at Saint Vincent College.
He was a member of the Latrobe Psychotherapy Association, American Psychological Association, the Greater Pittsburgh Psychological Association, the Pennsylvania Psychological Association and the National Register of Health Service Providers.
Father Vernon never looked to receive awards; however, the awards he received are reflective on his many and varied contributions to Saint Vincent. He received the Alumnus of Distinction Award and the Dean’s Faculty Award from Saint Vincent College in 1994. He also received the Boniface Wimmer Faculty Award in 1999 and the Thoburn Excellence in Teaching Award in 2001. In 2010, he was honored by the Mental Health America at its annual Innovations dinner in the field of recovery. Father Vernon received the Saint Vincent Preparatory School Hall of Fame Award in 2010, and has a Prep Alumni Scholarship named in his honor.
While much of his work involved academics and spirituality, as well as mental health, Father Vernon was also interested in physical fitness. He started the soccer program and served as head soccer coach at Saint Vincent College (1968-1975). He was inducted into the Saint Vincent College Alumni Athletic Hall of Fame in 2011. He was a fan of many sports teams, including those at Saint Vincent College, and was especially a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
An illustration from the world of sports seems appropriate for the athletic, self-proclaimed “jock”, Vernon Holtz:
A Brit named Derek Redmond arrived at the 1992 Olympic Summer Games in Barcelona determined to win a medal in the 400-meter. He had been forced to withdraw from the 400 at the previous 1988 Games in Seoul, only 10 minutes before the race, because of an Achilles tendon injury. He then underwent five surgeries over the next year. This was the same runner who had shattered the British 400-meter record at age 19. So the 1992 Games were his time, his moment, and his stage to show his athletic prowess.
As race time approached for the semifinal 400 heat, the stadium was packed with 65,000 excited fans. The race began and Redmond broke from the pack and quickly seized the lead. Down the backstretch, only 175 meters away from finishing, Redmond seems a shoo-in to make the finals. Suddenly, he hears a pop. It is his right hamstring. He pulls up lame, as if he had been shot. Redmond begins hopping on one leg, then slows down and falls to the track. As he lay on the track, clutching his right hamstring, a medical personnel unit ran toward him. Redmond refused medical assistance and lifted himself to his feet, ever so slowly, and started hobbling down the track. He wasn’t dropping out of the race by hobbling off to the side. No, he was actually continuing on one leg to the finish line. At the same time, Jim Redmond, seeing his son in trouble, raced down from the top row of the stands, sidestepping people, and bumping into others. Jim finally got to the bottom of the stands, leaped over the railing, avoided a security guard, and ran out to his son, with two security people chasing after him. Finally, with Derek painfully limping along the track, Jim reached his son at the final curve, about 120 meters from the finish, and wrapped his arm around him. Together, arm in arm, father and son, with 65,000 people cheering, clapping and crying, finished the race.
A couple steps from the finish line, Jim released the grip he has on his son, so Derek could cross the finish line by himself.
All of us, athletes or not, have at one time or another, probably more than once, been in the position of Derek Redmond. We’ve all experienced failure, defeat, obstacles, hurdles, setbacks, disappointment, and despair.
We’ve felt hopeless and demoralized in the midst of overwhelming circumstances. At the same time, most all of us have been the recipient of Jim Redmond’s kind of support, affirmation, and encouragement in the person of Father Vernon Holtz. He was always part of that great cloud of witnesses spurring us on in whatever difficult race we found ourselves, whether personal, professional, academic or spiritual. With his wit and humor, he was ever ready to lift the spirits of another, to provide direction, to offer hope, to suggest a path forward. And never with a “know-it-all” attitude, but with a sense of gently pulling wisdom from the reservoir of our own experience and insights. He enabled us to cross the finish line, surely with his help, but under our own power.
Vernon persevered in running the race displayed before him, while keeping his eyes fixed on Jesus, even as he endured his own cross these last months and days. Jesus joined him on the track and carried him to the finish line, to the place prepared for untroubled hearts at the destination of the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated for Father Vernon on Monday, September 26, 2022 and he was laid to rest in the Saint Vincent Cemetery. We ask for your charity and customary suffrages. It is consoling to know that every monk of our monastery offers three Masses for the repose of Father Vernon’s soul, and that he will be included among those confreres for whom all professed monks of our Congregation offer Mass monthly.
MAY FLIGHTS OF ANGELS SING THEE TO THY REST
+Martin R. Bartel, O.S.B. Archabbot
Saint Vincent Archabbey Latrobe, Pennsylvania