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‘Father Chuck’s’ many roles leave a mark

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SAN DIEGO – Father Chuck Fuld’s tour of duty as managing editor of The Southern Cross has come to an end.

After 12 years in charge of San Diego’s diocesan newspaper, Father Chuck, as he’s known, officially retired on Nov. 4, his 87th birthday. For the retired Naval officer and twice-retired parish pastor, this was his third and presumably his last retirement.

Father Chuck was certainly a unique figure in the annals of publishing. Not a professional journalist, he would be the first to admit that spelling and grammar were not his strong suits. As he often put it, “My spelling ain’t so good.”

He saw his role as primarily that of an advocate for both the publisher, the bishop of San Diego, and for the average reader.

Did a particular story reflect the bishop’s perspective on a given topic? Was an article written in a way that spoke to the typical Catholic in the pews, or was it packed with so much Church jargon or esoteric concepts that it required an advanced degree in theology to decipher? These were the questions that Father Chuck asked himself every time he reviewed an article submitted for his consideration.

But, by and large, Father Chuck’s leadership style was that of a delegator, not a micromanager. When he had an idea for a cover story or a “center-spread,” he enthusiastically provided the big picture, but often gave his subordinates the freedom to fill in the details.

He respected the talents and abilities of those who worked for him, often deferring to their judgment and almost always giving them plenty of space to exercise their creativity.

As managing editor, Father Chuck had a soft spot for priestly vocations, the military, the Boy Scouts, and the Knights of Columbus. Members of these constituencies knew that they had a friend at the paper.

“He was often looking for articles about the seminary … and I think that’s because of his commitment to vocations,” said Father Matt Spahr, rector of St. Francis de Sales House of Priestly Formation.

There was a running joke between Father Chuck and Father Spahr about how frequently photos of the latter should appear in the paper.

“Despite all of the accolades (Father Chuck) rightfully should receive, his failure to get me in The Southern Cross was notable,” Father Spahr said with tongue in cheek.

A widowed father of three children – Linda, Michael and Theresa – before entering the seminary, Father Chuck’s affiliation with the Boy Scouts preceded his priesthood. He was actively involved as a Scout leader while his son advanced from Cub Scout to Eagle Scout.

In the years between retiring from the U.S. Navy as a full commander in late 1976, after a 22-year career that included service during the Vietnam War, and his entrance into the seminary as a delayed vocation, he served as a district executive for the Boy Scouts and editor of the San Diego-Imperial Council’s publication, the Beaver Log. His years of service to Scouting were eventually recognized with the Silver Beaver Award.

A member of the Knights of Columbus since 1992, Father Chuck served as the chaplain for Ascension Council 7902 and, from 2008-2009, as chaplain for the California State Council.

Robert Villalobos, the former California State Deputy of the Knights of Columbus who invited Father Chuck to serve alongside him as state chaplain, described his friend as “a great example and true Knight of Columbus.”

“When he became the editor of The Southern Cross … he never forgot us,” said Villalobos. “His articles were always great.”

Born in New York City and raised by adoptive parents in the Bronx, Father Chuck was not only an atypical newspaper editor, he also took a unique path to the priesthood.

“His faith wasn’t very strong until he met my mother,” said his daughter, Linda Gordon.

Father Chuck’s wife, Elaine, had come from a devout Irish Catholic family and the future priest knew that he would need to become more serious about his faith if he was to marry her.

His daughter said his faith grew stronger after his wife’s sudden death in 1969 after almost 12 years of marriage, with active parish involvement, and through leading a Catholic parish-affiliated Scout troop.

Gloria Gibbons, his wife’s sister-in-law, became one of Father Chuck’s dearest friends. Gibbons and her husband took in Father Chuck’s children weeks after Elaine’s funeral when Father Chuck had to leave for a six-month deployment.

Over the decades that would follow, Gibbons was “his biggest support,” his daughter said. They spoke regularly and would bounce ideas off of one another.

Father Chuck entered St. Francis Seminary in 1981, after all of his child had reached adulthood. He was ordained to the priesthood on July 12, 1986, at age 52.

Father Chuck’s rich personal history would provide fodder for the many perspectives pieces he wrote for The Southern Cross. Nostalgic stories about his experiences as a parent appeared in the paper, always with the disclaimer that he had his children before he became a priest.

Father Chuck actually had two separate tours of duty with the newspaper.

The first was as assistant publisher from early November 1992 through late June 1995, a period that overlapped with his almost nine years as pastor of Resurrection Parish in Escondido, his longest pastoral assignment.

It was during this first stint at The Southern Cross that Father Chuck hired Donna Lightsey, who now serves as advertising and office coordinator for the paper and at 27 years is its longest-serving employee.

Father Chuck had previously served as the director of diocese’s Office of Communications for a period of 10 months in 1992.

The spring of 2008, when then Bishop Robert H. Brom tapped Father Chuck to return as managing editor, was a tumultuous time for the paper. Just a year earlier, the Diocese of San Diego had reached a $198 million settlement for its sexual abuse lawsuits, necessitating budget cuts and staff reductions.

The paper’s longtime editor had recently left to work at another publication. He was succeeded by his longtime associate editor, but she too would leave after only a few months at the editor’s desk. Amidst this upheaval and uncertainty, enter Father Chuck.

Perhaps it was because of his qualities as a father and grandfather, or maybe it was his pastoral experience at local parishes, but Father Chuck easily continued the family-like atmosphere that had long characterized life at The Southern Cross.

With his family at the paper, Father Chuck celebrated many milestones, including concelebrating Lightsey’s wedding.

It was also during his years at the paper that Father Chuck discovered that his biological family was larger than he realized. In June 2013, he was contacted at the paper by Robert Mate, a brother he never knew he had, who lives in New Jersey. Two years later, the reunited brothers learned that they had another sibling, Joseph McDonough of South Carolina. These were joyful discoveries that he shared with the staff.

Though Father Chuck never had a knack for foreign languages, he recognized the demographics of the San Diego Diocese and desired that The Southern Cross might better serve the Hispanic Catholic population.

He successfully lobbied then Bishop Cirilo Flores for permission to restore the paper’s Spanish-language section, which gradually grew to its present-day size, an eight-page standalone supplement. It is one of his enduring legacies as managing editor.

Whether in English or Spanish, it’s hard to explain just how special Father Chuck is and how sorely he will be missed.

He is certainly one of a kind.

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