Father Charles (Chuck) Pfeffer has been dead just about 10 years now, but he can still pack a church.
Maybe it should be expected. After his death at age 53 on Dec. 21, 2004, the anticipated crowd for his funeral Mass was so great it was held at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul.
Now, on Dec. 14, many of those who attended his funeral and others who knew him only by reputation visited Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Darby for the 11 a.m. Mass on Dec. 14 to celebrate the anniversary of his new life in the resurrection.
What Father Chuck did that has kept his memory green was mostly, but not entirely, work with youth and young adults — ministries that are just as important today as they were in his lifetime.
After his 1977 ordination he served as parochial vicar at St. Anthony in Ambler and St. Kevin in Springfield. In 1984 he was named director of the archdiocesan Catholic Committee on Scouting, and the next year assistant director of CYO, followed by head of the Office for Youth and Young Adults and finally Chaplain for the Penn Newman Center.
Along the way he also established Theology on Tap in Philly for young adults and was a co-founder of the Catholic Leadership Institute, which is still going strong and based in Wayne.
“We are here to celebrate his joy in our hearts, his priesthood, his ministry, his youthfulness and his unselfishness,” said Father Joseph Corley, the pastor at B.V.M. and the principal celebrant and homilist at the Mass that memorialized Father Chuck, his friend from their seminary days.
Father Corley called attention to the other priests present including Bishop Robert Maginnis, who presided at the Mass and who was Father Chuck’s immediate predecessor at the Department of Youth Activities, and Msgr. Francis Schmidt who was the bishop’s predecessor.
“I met Chuck when he was a senior in high school and he was my student representative for Chester County,” Msgr. Maginnis said. “He would visit parishes and talk to pastors to try to get them to start CYO programs, he was good. After he was ordained he was my strongest supporter in getting CYO started wherever he was stationed. He was very good to work with, a wonderful person who did everything well.”
Msgr. Schmidt, who also knew Father Chuck through youth ministry, was so impressed that in his memory he founded Father Chuck’s Challenge, a non-profit that has raised millions to provided decent housing for the poor in Nicaragua and Haiti.
“He was always available, and made every sacrifice he could to help people,” Msgr. Schmidt said. “He was underappreciated. When we go to a parish to talk about Father Chuck’s Challenge there is always someone who will come up and say he did a baptism, a wedding or just visited them.”
A large contingent of Father Pfeffer’s own family was also at the Mass including his younger brother, Jack Pfeffer.
“Chuck would be humbled by this, but he would be thrilled,” Jack said. “His legacy was giving people a chance to live their faith in the world, and maybe improve the lives of the youth.”
“What a big guy he was,” said Maureen Fletcher, Father Chuck’s niece. “He laughed at everything. I can appreciate now that I’m grown up the things he did. It is amazing to see this outpouring for him.”
The best testimonies come from the young people he influenced. Among them were Christine McCann and Tanya Murgia who were active with Community Service Corps, an outreach program for high school students, in the mid-1980s.
“He was so kind and funny and he really had a way of making youth feel like they were something bigger,” said McCann, who was in CSC at Archbishop Ryan High School. “He taught us to use our energy to do good in the community; it made us work that much harder.”
“He was our ‘jolly old elf,’” said Murgia, who was part of CSC at St. Basil Academy. “Once a month he would have Mass for us in the basement at 1213 Clover Street, and it was a Spirit-filled Mass, a Mass filled with love. At the end he would say, ‘All God’s people say, Amen. The Devil would say, Bummer.’”