SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (CNS) — The leadership of Worldwide Marriage Encounter mourned the death of Jesuit Father Chuck Gallagher, considered the driving force in creating what is the original faith-based marriage enrichment program.

Father Gallagher died July 21 in New Jersey after a short illness. He was 85.

Funeral arrangements were pending.

“It is with profound sadness that we announce Father Chuck’s passing. And yet we know he is with the Lord at this very moment,” said a joint statement from Tony and Cathy Witczak and Father Emile Frische, a Mill Hill Missionary, who make up Worldwide Marriage Encounter’s international leadership team.

“Over the years we have spent time with Father Chuck and learned how his vision for the movement was able to become reality,” they added.

The movement’s headquarters in San Bernardino July 22 released the international team’s statement as well as remembrances of the priest by the leaders of other encounter teams.

Father Gallagher attended a Marriage Encounter weekend in 1968 and the dream of expanding the movement worldwide began as a result of his experience. By 1969, he and two other priests and couples had presented 22 weekends in the New York area.

In the early 1970s, the movement began to expand across the United States and into Canada. By the mid-1970s, couples and priests were going as far away as Australia to offer the weekends.

The original Marriage Encounter weekend was developed by Father Gabriel Calvo in 1952 while he was serving as parish priest in Spain. Over the next 20 years, the weekend developed to a point where Father Gallagher took the basic premise and helped to create the Worldwide Marriage Encounter movement.

“Father Chuck is truly the father of the Worldwide Marriage Encounter movement. His vision, drive and determination have allowed millions of couples to experience this special marriage enrichment weekend,” said a statement from the organization’s North American leadership team, Scott and Karen Seaborn and Father Tom Ogg, a priest of the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyo.

Messages of condolences also came from the organization’s leadership teams in the United States and in Canada.

U.S. leaders Ron and Judy Pekny and Oblate Father Rocky Grimard said the late priest’s vision in the late ’60s “really resonated” with couples across the country and resulted in encounter weekends being held in every state.

They said one cannot think of Worldwide Marriage Encounter, or WWME, without remembering “the gifts of inspiration and joy that Father Chuck gave to the movement. (He) gave so much of his life to ministering to couples, inspiring our … movement from its inception, and building up the body of Christ.”

In 2010, at Worldwide Marriage Encounter’s North American convention in Atlantic City, N.J., Father Gallagher was recognized for all his devotion and dedication to the movement.

The Canadian team, Jamie and Connie McNeill and Capuchin Franciscan Father John Juhl, said that “without his fire and zeal, we don’t know if WWME would exist as it does today.”

As a result of Father Gallagher’s initial drive, along with leadership from numerous couples, there are now six secretariats across the world. Weekends are now presented in almost 100 countries and are held virtually almost every weekend of the year.

In addition to Father Gallagher’s involvement with Worldwide Marriage Encounter, he also was a prolific author and created other programs that help both individuals and couples on their life journeys.

Worldwide Marriage Encounter has been offering weekend experiences for more than 45 years and, according to a news release, is considered the original faith-based marriage enrichment program. The programs are continually updated to keep abreast of changes in society, the release said, and the organization now offers evening and half-day programs presented at parishes and other church facilities.

The weekend program, traditionally presented as an overnight experience at a hotel or retreat center, also can be presented at the parish where the couples return to their homes in the evenings.

In North America, the Worldwide Marriage Encounter programs are presented in English, Spanish, French and Korean.

The aim of a weekend is to offer married couples the opportunity to spend time together away from the busyness of the world to focus on each other. It offers tools “for building and maintaining a strong, Christian marriage in today’s world.”


To learn more about a Marriage Encounter weekend, visit the organization’s website or call 800-795-LOVE (English) or 800-599-AMOR (Spanish).