Local priest, family man dies

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Father John Noel ("Jack") Fullen, a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Baltimore who was living in Fairfax, died Friday after complications from heart surgery last fall. He had been living and working in the Arlington Diocese since 2001, assisting at several local parishes. He was 70 years old.

Fullen was born Dec. 25, 1939, in Brooklyn, N.Y. He graduated from Erasmus High School in New York and received his bachelor's of science degree in business administration from the University of Bridgeport in Bridgeport, Conn., in 1962. While a student there, he met his wife, Sandy. The couple married Sept. 1, 1962. Soon after, he entered the U.S. Marine Corps as a second lieutenant.

The couple was married for 24 years and raised three children: Pamela, Michael and Jason. During this time, Fullen served in the Marine Corps for three years and spent 20 years doing marketing for the Harris Corporation.

After Sandy converted to Catholicism midway through their marriage, Fullen recommitted himself to the Faith. Sandy worked at the Office of Vocations in the Arlington Diocese as the director of women religious, and the couple became involved with Marriage Encounter, a program designed to help married couple improve their marriage and grow closer to each other, at St. Ambrose Parish in Annandale. Together, they served on the national board of Worldwide Marriage Encounter for two years.

When Sandy died suddenly in 1986, Fullen was heartbroken. Eventually, he discerned he was called to the priesthood.

In 1990, he entered Pope John XXIII seminary in Weston, Mass. He was ordained May 27, 1995, at the Cathedral of Mary, Our Queen in Baltimore.

His first assignment was St. Mary Parish in Hagerstown, where he served as associate pastor until 1999. He served as associate pastor of Mary, Our Queen in 2000. In 2001, he retired early because of health issues and returned to the Arlington Diocese to live with family.

Since moving back to the area, Father Fullen stayed involved with the local Church, assisting at St. Raymond of Peñafort Parish in Springfield, Holy Trinity Parish in Gainesville, St. Claire of Assisi Parish in Clifton and Our Lady of Hope Parish in Potomac Falls.

Father James Gould, pastor of St. Raymond of Peñafort, knew Father Fullen since Sandy worked for Father Gould while he was diocesan director of vocations. He helped direct Father Fullen in his decision to join the priesthood and, in return, Father Fullen helped out at St. Raymond of Peñafort in his retirement, leading the Divine Mercy Holy Hours, celebrating Masses and hearing confessions.

"That man worked harder in his retirement than most of us do in our active life," Father Gould said. "I feel a profound gratitude for the Archdiocese of Baltimore and Archbishop (William H.) Keeler for giving him a chance and accepting him as a candidate for the priesthood, and when he retired letting him come home to us."

Father Fullen was also passionate about helping the poor. In 2005, he co-founded the Missionaries of Our Lady of Divine Mercy, House of Mercy, a spiritual outreach organization at Holy Trinity. His work with the organization took him to the Cote d'Ivoire, in West Africa, where he and co-founder Kellie Ross hoped to open an orphanage.

Ross said she feels profound sorrow in Father Fullen's death and that in the past few weeks, she's been receiving letters of condolence from all over the world, thanking him.

She said she will always remember him as a man who loved confession, the Mass and had a tremendous passion for helping the poor.

"He was a remarkable man and I know even in his afterlife, he'll continue to touch souls," she said. "It was such an honor to know him and for my family to know him and for this ministry. He will never be replaced in our hearts."

For Ross, Father Fullen was inspirational in many ways, but especially in the way he constantly worked and struggled for holiness.

"He spent countless hours in prayer, not because it was easy but because he disciplined himself," Ross said. "It wasn't that he had these extraordinary gifts. It was his desire for holiness. He willed himself to become a saint and he became a saint. It was his choice."

In a 2004 interview, Father Fullen spoke of the similarities between his two seemingly different vocations - marriage and the priesthood, saying that neither were better because in each one, he was where God wanted him to be at that specific moment.

He also added that he was looking forward to being reunited with his wife again someday.

"The finest moment of my life is seeing the face of God," he said. "And second to that is to see Sandy."

Father Fullen is survived by his daughter, Pamela Morrison, and her husband, Bruce, of Fairfax; two sons, Michael Fullen of San Diego, Calif.; and Jason Fullen and his wife, Megan, of Fairfax; and four grandchildren, Payton, Sydney, Hailey and Connor.

Father Fullen's funeral Mass was scheduled for May 12 at Holy Trinity. The Mass was to be celebrated by Father Francis Peffley, pastor, with Father Gould as concelebrant. Burial was to follow at Colombia Gardens in Arlington.

In lieu of flowers, Father Fullen requested memorial contributions be made to the Missionaries of Our Lady of Divine Mercy, 10043 Nokesville Rd., Manassas, VA 20110 or to Holy Trinity Church, 8312 Linton Hall Rd., Gainesville, VA 20155.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2010