Father John Echert reflects on role in film, 25 years as priest

| Susan Klemond for The Catholic Spirit | June 6, 2012 | 0 Comments

Father Echert

Father John Echert’s acting debut in a movie about sharing war memories has him remembering his own experiences from two decades of service as an Air Force and Air National Guard chaplain — one part of his 25 varied years as a priest.

“It very much brings back memories not only of deployments to the desert but also deployments to the [Landstuhl, Germany] casualty hospital,” said Father Echert, who plays a civilian German pastor during World War II in the feature film, “Memorial Day,” which was recently released on DVD.

Father Echert, who is pastor of St. Augustine and Holy Trinity in South St. Paul, celebrated his 25th anniversary as a priest June 3 as Holy Trinity also marked the feast day of the Holy Trinity with a Mass and reception.

Sharing memories

In “Memorial Day,” actor James Crom­well plays a World War II veteran who shares memories of his service with his grandson, who grows up to serve in the Iraq war and in turn shares his own stories.

While the movie, shot entirely in Minnesota, contains war scenes, it’s not intended to be a war film but rather to encourage families to share memories, even difficult ones, Father Echert said.

“There’s a healing process and a closure that can happen after sharing memories that are hard,” Father Echert said.

Father Echert’s 30-second appearance in the film was shot over three days in 2010 in an old church near Montgomery, Minn. In his role, he leads the Lord’s Prayer in Latin during an Easter Vigil Mass in a bombed out German town.

Knowing both Latin and German proved useful in the part. “After reciting it in my best, most fluid Latin, the director asked if I could do my Latin lines to make them sound more German.”

Memorial Day” became available May 29 on DVD and Blu-ray.

Father Echert’s first movie role in “Memorial Day” is another facet of his priestly career which has included parish work, 15 years as a professor in sacred Scripture and military chaplaincy both at home and abroad.

“It’s been a very good variety, very . . . challenging and fulfilling,” he said. “It’s brought together two worlds. I always wanted to be a priest, and I always wanted to be in the military.”

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