Growing up in Tenafly, Father Stephen attended public school until, along with a half dozen local friends, he enrolled at Bergen Catholic. “One of my first memories is feeling rather grown up wearing a jacket and tie to school. It made me feel more mature. It was a nice first step into adulthood, and it expanded my world at a time when I was ready and able to appreciate it.”
While at Bergen, Stephen was very involved in student government and the school newspaper as well as consistently being a top student. He fondly remembers his French teacher, Brother Hallinan, who challenged and inspired him in life-changing ways. “Brother Hallinan was someone who took me under his wing and helped me to grow and flourish. While he was a tough teacher, he was also a fair one.” Every Monday morning, Brother would give his young student a photocopy of The New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle and challenge him to complete it within 48 hours. “He would give me the answers on Wednesday to check against my own. This prompted a lot of learning for me. I felt like my brain was opening further and further, and I was using a part of it that was creative, resourceful and imaginative. I was very encouraged by this exercise and by Brother’s interest in me.”
After his years in Europe, the newly ordained Father Fichter returned to Bergen County in October 2000. He spent a few months as parochial vicar of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Ridgewood, and then became parochial vicar at Saint Gabriel the Archangel in Saddle River. In 2008, he was assigned as pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Haworth, where he founded the VITA Youth Group whose last summer mission was to Haiti. Cardinal Tobin appointed him as pastor of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary Parish in Wyckoff in July 2017. He is happy to be in Wyckoff but joked that many of his parishioners are graduates from “that reformatory school in Ramsey.”
Father Fichter earned degrees from the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum in Rome, an M.S.W. from Fordham University’s Graduate School of Social Service, and an M.A. as well as a Ph.D. in Sociology from Rutgers University. He works as a research associate for CARA (The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) at Georgetown University, specializing in clergy research. Last year, he was invited to be a visiting scholar at Fordham’s Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education. He has written three books; his latest one, about Catholic bishops in the United States, will be published by Oxford University Press in November 2018.
Father Stephen is often asked to celebrate Mass at 1040 Oradell Avenue or at alumni events. This past winter at the Bacari Grill, he led a Theology on Tap discussion on the intergenerational transmission of faith. “I feel blessed that I live close enough that I can remain connected to Bergen.” He still keeps in touch with his friends from the Class of 1985 (Andy, Bill, Dan, Dante, Fran, Jimmy, John, Matt, Peter, Tom, and Vin) and he sees the school’s legacy living on in them. “All of us are deeply committed to the values imparted to us at Bergen. I see my classmates as upstanding citizens who are bringing up their kids to be generous and kind people. I think that’s a wonderful reflection of what Bergen Catholic is all about.”