Worldwide Marriage Encounter Mourns Passing of Founder

Couple recalls how Father Chuck Gallagher strengthened and saved countless marriages all over the world.

Father Chuck Gallagher
Father Chuck Gallagher (photo: CNA/Courtesy of Diane and Dick Baumbach)

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — Father Chuck Gallagher, the priest who sparked the expansion of faith-based marriage enrichment retreats for millions of couples all over the world, died July 21 at the age of 85 in New Jersey.

“He taught us so much about loving each other, loving the world and how to be better people,” said Diane Baumbach, who attended a Marriage Encounter weekend with her husband in 1973.

“He’s just been so important in our lives,” she said. “We think his memory and legacy will be with us for centuries.”

Diane and her husband, Dick Baumbach, told Catholic News Agency they were so moved by their own Marriage Encounter weekend that they eventually began working for the organization as the "North American Weekend Pillar" team.

“The weekend had such an impact on us that it not only changed our lives, but it also changed our children’s lives,” Dick Baumbach said. “[Father Gallagher’s] vision and his looking at the future helped us to become a better couple.”

The Baumbachs said that without Father Gallagher’s vision and determination to expand the movement, they are “not sure we would have continued working on [our marriage].”

Although Spanish priest Father Gabriel Calvo is recognized as the founder of the Marriage Encounter weekend, Father Gallagher is known for taking the retreat to an international level.

Father Gallagher attended a Marriage Encounter weekend in 1968 and decided to broaden the program's reach. One year later, in 1969, he and two other priests and couples had presented 22 weekend retreats in the New York area.

Over the next few years, the weekend retreats had become so popular that they spread across the United States and into Canada. By the mid-1970s, priests and couples had moved as far away as Australia in order to offer the retreats.

Along with his work for the Worldwide Marriage Encounter, Father Gallagher was an author and developed other programs to help individuals as well as couples navigate through life’s challenges.

Each Marriage Encounter weekend offers couples time away from the busyness of daily life to focus on their relationship as husband and wife. It provides tools for creating and maintaining a strong marriage, and it is updated frequently to keep up with the challenges presented by modern society.

The Worldwide Marriage Encounter is now in nearly 100 countries, and it has helped millions of couples all over the world strengthen their marriages.

Dick Baumbach said, “The miracle that happened on this earth in marriages by Father Chuck's determination and vision and guidance will last forever.”