In Venice, a Young Boatman Steers a Course of His Own.
“It is my intention to return to the city and enter the priesthood,” Father Michael Fuchs told me when I met him in his little office in Venice’s San Marco’s Piazzetta. A few months earlier, having left his job as a senior pastor in New York City, he had been hired as chaplain to the Venice Lagoon, a community of homeless people and artists who were taking advantage of the city’s cultural and sporting delights.
But Fuchs said he had no intention of ever returning to America. “The job did not provide for me spiritual renewal,” he wrote in his 2015 memoir, The Father Who Has Become a River. “I was so unhappy. I had failed to live up to the highest ideals I had ever learned. The church is too busy preaching about Jesus. For me, that would have been a cop-out. I had to find something more powerful.”
Fuchs, who in his early twenties had started his own spiritual practice, found his faith growing with spiritual friends. When he first read the Bible he was astonished to find that the New Testament was full of stories of people who left their faith when Jesus died and entered into “celestial heaven.” The stories inspired him to find his own “celestial heaven.”
Father Fuchs started to practice a more private form of the faith he had learned in seminary. He would read his Bible, attend regular meditation classes with other Catholics and “dive,” or meditate, for hours in his living room, on a regular basis. He had also found a community of friends in the Venice Lagoon, and he began sharing his faith with the homeless, whom he had met as a volunteer at the Venice Civic Center.
Fuchs, who wore his thick black hair long and a mass of beard covering his upper lip, was not shy about sharing his faith. I had not been sure that he would take me along to his office at the Venice Lagoon. He said, “My faith is not a political statement; it is based in a universal philosophy of human dignity and the dignity of the human soul.”
In early September 2014, he