By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
The readings for Sunday, Feb. 7, including Christ’s call to Peter to follow Him, were tailor-made for a liturgy in remembrance of a faithful priest.
The Mass, at the chapel of the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, marked the fifth anniversary of the death of Father Charles (Chuck) Pfeffer, who in just 27 years of priesthood influenced many lives, especially the youth and young adults of the Archdiocese.
Approximately 80 friends, relatives and colleagues attended the afternoon Mass in spite of the record snowfall which virtually shut down the city last weekend.
Almost all of Father Pfeffer’s priesthood involved the crucial role of nurturing the spirituality and leadership qualities for the youth and young adults of the Archdiocese, qualities vital for the next generation of adult Catholics.
He served as an assistant director and ultimately the director of the archdiocesan Department of Youth Ministry and later as chaplain for the University of Pennsylvania’s Newman Club.
It was appropriate too that the principal celebrant of the Mass was Auxiliary Bishop Robert P. Maginnis, his immediate predecessor in the Youth Office. He was joined by Msgr. Francis X. Schmidt, who was Bishop Maginnis’ predecessor in youth ministry and a mentor to Father Pfeffer when he was a member of the Community Service Corps as a Cardinal Dougherty High School student; and Father Thomas Higgins, who succeeded Father Pfeffer in the Youth Office.
In his homily Bishop Maginnis compared Father Pfeffer to Peter who said to Christ, “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
“Chuck graduated from Cardinal Dougherty High School and didn’t go into the seminary right away,” Bishop Maginnis said. “He wasn’t too sure about his vocation. Eventually he did understand and what a great job he did all his life. He did very good things and touched so many people because he knew. Once he understood the call he was ready.”
Jack Pfeffer, Father Pfeffer’s brother, said all the fuss being made would embarrass him.
“In his own mind he was such a small soul, but he was such a great soul to everybody else,” his brother said. “So many people looked up to him and learned from him. He really was a shepherd of the flock.”
Kate Ward-Gaus first encountered Father Pfeffer when she was a high school student active with the Community Service Corps, and she kept in touch over the years. He officiated at her wedding, baptized her three children and celebrated the funeral Mass of both of her parents.
“He was effective in any ministry he did,” she said. “I think his great gift to the Archdiocese was all of the work that he did for youth ministry – in ministry with teens, college students and young adults and his training others to be really fabulous youth ministers.”
Len DiPaul, a former assistant director in the Department of Youth Ministry (Office for Youth and Young Adults), worked with Father Pfeffer for about 20 years and knew him as someone who was a real disciple. “He took the Gospel seriously and enjoyed sharing it with others,” he said.
A few of those who attended the Mass knew Father Pfeffer only by reputation. For example, Charles Sauermelch of St. Eleanor Parish in Collegeville is a donor to Father Chuck’s Challenge, the project named for Father Pfeffer, which builds housing and undertakes other projects in Central America.
“This is a great opportunity to celebrate his life and the many things he started that are so beneficial to so many people,” Sauermelch said. “We are just grateful to be a little part of that through Father Chuck’s Challenge.”
At this time Father Chuck’s Challenge, working through Food for the Poor, has erected more than 100 houses in Nicaragua and is funding the necessary equipment to turn a coastal village in Haiti into a self-sustaining fishing village.
But now after the earthquake the people may need new houses too, Msgr. Schmidt said.
“I feel the program is very much empowered by Father Chuck and the memory people have of him and the positive spiritual influence he had with them,” he said.