Fr. Gregory Pelesh, Retired USAF Chaplain, dies

The Very Reverend Gregory H. Pelesh, 55, died unexpectedly at his home on Friday, November 30, 2001.

Father Pelesh was born in Baltimore, MD, the son of the Very Rev. Gregory and Dorothy Pelesh, on February 28, 1945. After graduation from Olyphant High School, Olyphant, PA and Keystone Junior College, LaPlume, PA, he enrolled in Saint Tikhon Orthodox Theological Seminary, South Canaan, PA, from which he graduated in May 1969. After his marriage to the former Diane Dirga, daughter of the Very Rev. and Mrs. Michael Dirga, he was ordained to the Diaconate and Priesthood in June 1969 and assigned Rector of Saints Cyril and Methodius Church, Jeanette, PA. The following year he graduated from Saint Vincent’s College, Latrobe, PA with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Sociology and Special Work in Family and Marriage Counseling and Drug Addiction.

In August 1970, Father Pelesh entered the US Air Force as a military chaplain and was stationed at Lackland Air Force Base, TX. During his long and distinguished chaplaincy, Father Pelesh received many honors and awards for outstanding service. In 1973, he received the Meritorious Service Medal for the performance of outstanding service as Staff Consultant at the USAF Special Treatment Center, Lackland Air Force Base, where he was instrumental in the development and operation of an effective drug rehabilitation program. In March 1974, he was selected Outstanding Junior Officer and served as Vice President of the Lackland Junior Officers’ Council and placed on the National Nominating Committee of the Military Chaplains’ Association.

Father Pelesh completed advanced studies at the Institute of Religion and Human Development, Texas Medical Center, Air Force Squadron Officers’ School, the Air Force School of Human Relations, the Air Force School of Drug/Alcohol Dependency, and the Air Command and Staff College.

Father Pelesh served tours of duty at the USAF Base in Ramstein, Germany; Lowry Air Force Base, Denver, CO; and elsewhere. In 1977, he served as Chaplain Representative to the International Conference for Disarmament and World Peace in Geneva, Switzerland. In September 1987, he was promoted to Colonel, and the following year he was assigned to the 6940th Electronic Security Wing at Fort Meade, MD, as the Senior Chaplain for the National Security Agency, the first Orthodox chaplain to hold this position. From 1990 until 1994, he served as Chief, Personnel and Material Division, Office of the Chief of Chaplains at Bolling Air Force Base, DC. During this time he was awarded the Defense Meritorious Service Medal. In 1993, he served as Staff Chaplain for Religious Perspectives, Service Life Issue Panel, Directorate of Panel Integration, Military Working Group, Office of Secretary of Defense, for which he was awarded the Joint Service Commendation Medal. In 1994, he was awarded the Legion of Merit for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services.

From August 1994 until June 1996, Father Pelesh served as Senior Staff Chaplain to the Director, Joint Command and Control Warfare Center and Commander, Air Intelligence Agency, at Kelly USAF Base, Texas. In the mid-1990s, Father Pelesh also distinguished himself as a member of the Military-to-Military Exchange in Moscow as a resource leader on the Role of Chaplains in the Russian Military, a momentous convocation between the Ministry of Defense and the Patriarchate of Moscow, hailed as “one of the most important recent events in the emerging history of post-USSR Russia.” He also served as Dean and Executive Director of Military/VA Chaplaincies.

Upon retirement from the chaplaincy in 2000, Father Pelesh and his family were honored for 30 years of exceptional meritorious service to the US in a ceremony held at the National Security Agency, Fort Meade, MD. He was presented the Defense Meritorious Service Medal for major contributions to the effectiveness and success of the National Security Agency.

After his retirement from the chaplaincy, he served as Chancellor of the Diocese of Washington, DC until July 2001.

Funeral services for Father Pelesh were held at Saint Nicholas Cathedral, Washington, DC on the evening of Sunday, December 2. The Divine Liturgy and burial were held at Saint Tikhon’s Monastery, South Canaan, PA, on Tuesday, December 4, celebrated by His Eminence Archbishop Gregory, retired Bishop of Sitka along with over 30 clergy.

Father Pelesh is survived by his wife, Diane [Dirga] Pelesh and two children, Daria and Gregory.

May Father Pelesh’s memory be eternal!