Father Moritz Fuchs’ life of service celebrated

Father Moritz Fuchs (Sun archive photo)

By Katherine Long | Editor

Father Moritz Fuchs was remembered as a shining example of service, dedication, and commitment at the Mass of Christian burial celebrating his life and priesthood June 30.

Father Fuchs, a priest of the Diocese of Syracuse for 63 years, passed away June 19. He was 92.

His funeral Mass was celebrated by Bishop Robert J. Cunningham at Holy Trinity Parish in Fulton, Father Fuchs’ home parish (the former Immaculate Conception Church) and the community where he continued to celebrate daily Mass in his retirement.

Born July 21, 1925, Father Fuchs was a graduate of Fulton High School. He pursued a degree in mechanical engineering at Purdue University before being drafted into the Army during World Word II.

Father Fuchs’ experience in the military led to his calling to the priesthood: “During the war I was in the First Infantry and I was wounded. I spent time in the hospital and had a chance to speak to several of the chaplains there. A German pastor and his flock inspired me and I saw the effect one person could have on another’s life,” he told the Sun in a 2015 interview on the occasion of his 60th jubilee.

Father Fuchs later served as a bodyguard for Robert H. Jackson, chief U.S. prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials in Nuremberg, Germany. [See story below for more on Father Fuchs’ historic military service.]

After returning home in August 1946, Father Fuchs attended St. Andrew’s and St. Bernard’s for seminary studies. He was ordained in May 1955, and over 45 years served in parishes including Immaculate Heart of Mary in Liverpool, St. Mary’s in Clinton, Our Lady of the Rosary in New Hartford, St. Paul’s in Oswego, St. Catherine’s in Binghamton, Most Holy Rosary in Syracuse, St. Joseph’s in Oriskany Falls, St. Agatha’s in Canastota, and Our Lady of the Rosary in Hannibal. He retired in July 2000.

Father John Canorro, former pastor of Holy Trinity and current pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish in North Syracuse, offered a homily that reflected on Father Fuchs’ life and legacy.

“As I look out, I see Father Fuchs. Because he’s here,” Father Canorro told the crowded church, noting especially the veterans, Hibernians, Knights of Columbus, brother clergy, parish friends, and family members filling the pews.

Father Canorro shared a telling memory from his first encounter with the priest who so deeply loved his ministry.

At a clergy meeting some years ago, when Father Canorro was a relatively new pastor in Fulton, Father Fuchs told him, “‘You know, if I was a bishop, the first thing that I would do is make every priest retire,’” Father Canorro recalled. “‘You know why? Because I’m more a priest now in retirement than I ever was when I was working in the parish,’” when meetings and administration could distract from the priestly ministry God called him to.

In retirement, Father Fuchs found that priesthood, Father Canorro said, that time to sit and pray, to be willing to hear confessions whenever asked, to really be with people and to serve them.

Father Fuchs gives us all a wonderful example, Father Canorro said, urging those present “to do what he’s done for us”: to show others the way to God, to speak the truth even when it’s not comfortable, and to live the life that God gives us.

Father Canorro closed with a gesture that he said always put a smile on Father Fuchs’ face as well as his own.

Over the past few years, at the Sign of Peace, Father Fuchs “never shook your hand anymore. He gave you a fist bump” with the little twiddly fingers afterward, he said, to gentle, knowing laughter from the assembly. With a bump and a twiddle, Father Canorro offered a final farewell to Father Fuchs on behalf of all: “Rest in peace.”

 

The Nuremberg bodyguard who stood up for God 

Compiled by Tom Maguire | Associate editor

Father Moritz Fuchs was an American legend who was admired by people of many backgrounds. Among them is John Q. Barrett, a professor of law at St. John’s University. Barrett publishes   thejacksonlist.com, a collection of his essays about Robert H. Jackson, who was an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court and the chief U.S. prosecutor at the Major War Criminals’ Trial in Nuremberg.

Thejacksonlist.com entry titled “Bodyguard, Nuremberg’s Spiritual Guard” gives these facts about Father Fuchs’ life:

A farm boy from upstate, he learned German from his parents, immigrants from Switzerland. He went to college to study engineering, but he soon left for military service. By November 1944 Private Fuchs, 19, was serving as a replacement in the 1st Army Division (the Big Red 1) in Germany’s Hürtgen Forest. On Nov. 19, he was wounded by shrapnel from German artillery fire. Private Fuchs recovered in England and rejoined his unit, fighting on in Germany and into Czechoslovakia.

After Germany surrendered in May 1945, Private Fuchs was assigned to Nuremberg, where he supervised former SS men who did cleanup in the bomb-damaged city. That summer, Private Fuchs got a new assignment: bodyguard for Justice Jackson for the entirety of the Nuremberg trial. When Jackson was in court, Private Fuchs carried the only authorized gun in Courtroom 600.

The private was promoted to staff sergeant, and he became friends with Jackson. They enjoyed hunting trips in the woods outside Nuremberg, “where Jackson observed, with relief, that his bodyguard was a good shot.”

After Jackson made his closing statement to the International Military Tribunal in late July 1946, he brought Sgt. Fuchs home on his plane. Sgt. Fuchs was discharged from the Army and then pursued his religious calling.

Barrett, the Elizabeth S. Lenna Fellow at the Robert H. Jackson Center in Jamestown, N.Y., is writing a biography of Justice Jackson. He adds on thejacksonlist.com that Father Fuchs “succumbed to cancer, to a systemic infection, to being just short of age 93, and maybe also, a little bit, to Nazi shrapnel.

“This moment is deeply sad for all who knew or knew of Father Fuchs. On the other hand, today he is exactly where he, a man of immense religious faith, worked his whole life to be, and that thought should comfort each of us.”

Barrett adds: “Private, then Sergeant Fuchs guarded Justice Robert Jackson—well done.

“Father Fuchs also, across decades, as priest and friend, guarded humanity and morality. I think of that as him guarding, among other things, Nuremberg’s core meaning—even better done.”

 

Here are comments from others who knew Father Fuchs:

Retired Town of Victory Justice Lauren Dates, of Red Creek, friend:

Judge Dates, a combat veteran of the Vietnam War, met Father Fuchs 11 years ago at an American Legion function. The judge and his wife, Laurie, used to have Father Fuchs over to their house: “Still had that sweet disposition and smile. … Just glad to see ya.” Last year, on the 50th anniversary of a particularly horrific battle involving the judge’s unit in Vietnam, Father Fuchs said a memorial Mass for the veterans who came from places including Watertown and Geneseo.

Coming into contact with the violence and evil of World War II and the Nuremberg trial “caused him to decide in his life he wanted to do good.”

Two years ago, Father Fuchs spoke to a history class at Red Creek Central School. “He told the students: ‘Strive to do good in your life. Strive to do good,’ and that’s what he did.”

Instead of doing things like flying around in Judge Dates’ airplane, Father Fuchs “just wanted to be with ya. You didn’t have to entertain him.” Father Fuchs did enjoy watching Judge Dates’ flyovers on Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

Judge Dates remembers asking Father Fuchs how he got a Combat Infantry Badge: “That sweet smile: ‘I wasn’t a priest then.’ … That’s how we met: as two old soldiers.”

The judge and his wife knew for five or six years that Father Fuchs was frail. They last saw him at a care facility in Minetto about 10 days before he died: “He still wanted to do that fist bump. … ‘Let’s say the Our Father together.’ He always did that. … That was his way of … parting.”

Father Fuchs told him he wanted to get out of the care facility and go home. “The way I look at it now, in perspective, he IS home. He loved … his family. … For him I think he spent his time on this earth very wisely.”

 

Father Tom McNamara, OFM Cap, longtime friend:

“I’ve known Father Fuchs since 1970 when he became pastor at the Church of St. Joseph in Oriskany Falls, where he integrated Vatican II with our parish practice. When I think of his classical education, I cannot help but think of how blessed we were to have had a man of his caliber in our community advising us, challenging us, growing alongside of us. 

“Though we were a rural community living in the pre-internet age, Father Moritz passed on a ‘Catholic’ point of view in the best sense of the word. We were confident of our tradition and able to collaborate with our Protestant brothers and sisters in building the kingdom. His experiences of war, and Swiss German background forged a mentality that could make the best of any situation. 

“I was an altar boy with him throughout my school years learning around the altar, in home or hospital visits, and in simply praying spontaneously with someone in need, a spiritual foundation that I rely on today.

“He supported us in music ministry, evangelization, and prayer. He followed me through my career in education, work in agriculture, and my finally ‘hearing the call’ to the priesthood.

“His ‘hands on’ and pragmatic approach to ministry was what attracted me. He was always a man of action keeping a large garden, ( I noticed his berry-stained hands at the lavabo), engaging local craftspeople, encouraging local business and school leaders, and challenging community and school leadership to maintain high ideals. …

“Of note, were the times when I made wine with him at his family home, actually picking up the grapes from Penn Yan in his Uncle Karl’s Ford station wagon, crushing them into open barrels in the basement, and then siphoning off the juice, and preparing it for other barrels for the fermentation process. I remember a pivotal talk at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception where he brought a group of us to hear a lay evangelist speak of ministry on the streets of Washington, D.C. 

“He was the first person I ever heard say that we should support local eateries, and not chain restaurants, because the profits stay home in the local community. That was the 1970’s; imagine today, if we took that advice. The power of the dollar does indeed turn the wheels of this country. 

“It was a great formation that opened up a world for me, and on which I undoubtedly have modeled my life in ministry now, as friar and priest. I am grateful to God for the example of his life. 

 

Joseph R. Messineo, senior vice president of Key Bank; interview for the Veterans History Project’s (VHP) video of Father Fuchs, in an email:

It is very rare for a priest to have been awarded a combat medal. Many priests, ministers, and rabbis served during the war as chaplains, but few men fought and became a priest after fighting. His behavior, like that of many veterans, was very Christlike. John 15:13. …

“The importance of collecting the firsthand account of a man who was the witness to war and justice is very important to maintaining an accurate record of both his service to our country and his perspective on the day-to-day events of the Tribunal and Justice Jackson. Historians will be able to hear his story and observations of Jackson exactly as he remembered them without layers of revisionist history.

“The VHP as commissioned by Congress has the sole mission of collecting the firsthand accounts of wartime veterans so that their story will never be forgotten. As one veteran told me, ‘This stuff is sacred.’”

 

Gregory L. Peterson, co-founder and past president of the Robert H. Jackson Center:

“A more humble man of God I have never met. He was actually in a place of historical moment at Nuremberg, yet he never showed light on his involvement or his participation in that moment.

“He reflected so much on his religious career as a Catholic priest and the mission of affecting souls, that for 50 years after his ordination, he never even prepared a homily on the subject until we caught up with him back in 2002. …

“He was justly proud of his relationship with Justice Jackson and the justice that has evolved since then as a part of the legacy of the Nuremberg trial.

“He was an incredible individual who displayed humility in all aspects of his career. He not only was the bodyguard of Justice Robert Jackson but was in the presence of Chief Justices [William] Rehnquist and [John] Roberts and members of the Nuremberg prosecution team both in 1945 and ’46, and at the various anniversaries right up to 2015.”

When Chief Justice Roberts spoke at the Robert H. Jackson Center in 2013, Peterson said, Father Fuchs gave both the invocation and the benediction, and afterward, every member of Justice Roberts’ security team stood in line to get an autograph and a picture with Father Fuchs.

 

Carrie Quain, former parish secretary for 20 years and director of music for 17 years at St. Agatha Church, Canastota, in an email:

Father Fuchs “was my boss, my friend, and my adopted brother as his birthday was the same as my only brother who was an Air Force pilot killed during WWII. A treasured member of our family is now in heaven praying for us all.”

She recalled that Father Fuchs encouraged more involvement in the choir, which grew to at least 40 members. He was always holding appreciation dinners and helping the people involved.

Among his strong characteristics:

• “His ardent faithfulness in offering daily Mass. His day off began after the Wednesday 7 a.m. Mass until the Thursday 7 p.m. Mass.

• “His attentiveness to visiting the sick in hospitals and at home.

• “His caring attentiveness to the grieving. … Seeing most of his battalion killed by air shrapnel and he himself wounded and hospitalized for three months, he realized the profound depths of grief and consequently realized the importance of ministering to those suffering the loss of loved ones.

• “Naturally extremely patriotic. Just such a strong love for the country.”

 

Phil Zimmer, volunteer at the Robert H. Jackson Center, in an email:

“He was a very bright, articulate, and perceptive individual. … He served the country exceptionally well and then went on to serve his parishioners exceptionally well. … A wonderful guy, very soft-spoken, very mild-mannered.”

Zimmer’s interview with Father Fuchs can be viewed here.

 

Here are comments from Father Fuchs himself, in an interview with the Sun in 2016:

He spoke of the Battle of Hürtgen Forest: wet, cold, and snowy. The Germans were throwing 80mm artillery pieces that hit the tops of trees and exploded, sending steel shrapnel all over the forest floor.

He found the lifeless body of one of his buddies on a pile of bodies. “My buddy!”

“You realize very well that could be you,” he said. “It’s like you’ve only got five, ten minutes left in your life, what do you do? Do the right thing.”