Priest tells of sex scandal's impact in book

By Deena Yellin

The Record (Hackensack N.J.)

Published: Wednesday, June 27 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

Fichter's own calling came gradually. He grew up in Tenafly, N.J., graduated from Bergen Catholic High School as salutatorian and received an Air Force ROTC scholarship. He planned on college. And when his best friend told him he wanted to join the priesthood, Fichter talked him out of it: "I told him he was crazy and asked why he'd want to waste his life."

But after high school, he left church one morning and an elderly woman placed a Miraculous Medal in his hand, saying: "When you are a priest one day, I want you to give this to someone." Fichter had no idea he'd be a fit in the priesthood, but the incident got him thinking. And while hitchhiking through Ireland in 1986, he encountered many types of clergy that further stirred him.

One night he prayed for divine guidance. The next day, as he walked on a beach, he met a nun, who told him she saw the "priestly vocation" in his eyes. Several weeks later, he was in a car that flipped. As it crashed in a ditch, Fichter vowed that if he came out alive, he would become a priest. Everyone survived, and he stuck to that vow.

Now at Sacred Heart, Fichter said the best part of the priesthood is being there for the big moments in peoples' lives: "People share their difficulties and struggles, and you help them work through a crisis. But you also share happy moments with them, like at baptisms. You become part of their family."

On a given Saturday, he might conduct a funeral at 10 a.m. and then during the afternoon preside over a wedding, hear confessions and celebrate Mass. "Dealing with people in this way is a beautiful career or, as we call it in the church, a vocation," he said.

His biggest sacrifice, he conceded, is not being able to marry and have children of his own. But that, he said, is part of the compact. "Every good priest I know has struggled with this."

Apparently, many colleagues also have similarly made their peace: Amid all the recent turmoil, priests reported being content.

"One might think that all these older guys who have more work and are spread so thin (sometimes in several parishes) would be burnt out and unhappy," he said. But he found just the opposite.

"Does this vocation have its share of trials and difficulties? Without a doubt," he said. "As a priest, you're never really 'off duty.' Even on my days off, I always keep my cellphone handy in case someone needs me."

(c)2012 The Record (Hackensack, N.J.) Visit The Record (Hackensack, N.J.) at www.NorthJersey.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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