BALTIMORE — Cardinal William Keeler, who was archbishop of Baltimore from 1989 to 2007, has died at the age of 86, archdiocesan officials say.
He died early in the morning of March 23 at St. Martin’s Home for the Aged in Catonsville, Maryland, a home administered by the Little Sisters of the Poor.
The cardinal’s funeral Mass will be held March 28 at Baltimore’s Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, after which his body will be interred in the basement crypt at the city’s Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore said in a statement that getting to know Cardinal Keeler was one of “the great blessings in my life.”
Archbishop Lori added that after he was appointed archbishop of Baltimore in 2012 “I became more aware than ever of his tremendous ministry in the city of Baltimore and in the nine Maryland counties that comprise the archdiocese.”
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, also offered his “prayers of gratitude for Cardinal Keeler’s return to the Lord he so dearly loved,” in a statement.
“As a priest, bishop of Harrisburg, and archbishop of Baltimore, the cardinal worked to bring the hope of Christ to people’s lives. He also built bridges of solidarity to people of other faiths as a leader in ecumenism and interreligious affairs,” Cardinal DiNardo continued.
“Cardinal Keeler was a dear friend. The most fitting tribute we can offer is to carry forward his episcopal motto in our daily lives: ‘Do the work of an evangelist.’”
William Henry Keeler was born in San Antonio, Texas, March 4, 1931. After growing up and attending Catholic schools in Pennsylvania, he joined the seminary and then attended the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He was ordained there as a priest of the Diocese of Harrisburg in 1955, at the age of 24.
During the Second Vatican Council, Father Keeler served as secretary to Bishop George Leech of Harrisburg. He was appointed auxiliary bishop of Harrisburg in 1979, and in 1983 became bishop of the same diocese. In 1989 he was named the 14th archbishop of Baltimore, the oldest diocese in the United States.
Archbishop Keeler was also elected as president of the U.S. bishops’ conference in 1992, where he helped coordinate 1993’s World Youth Day celebrations in Denver.
Archbishop Keeler was appointed a cardinal by St. John Paul II in 1994. He retired in 2007, at the age of 76.
Cardinal Keeler was very involved in both interreligious and ecumenical activities, as well as the pro-life movement.
At the bishops’ conference, he served as the moderator for Catholic-Jewish relations as well as the chairman for the bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs between 1984 and 1987. He served on the International Catholic Orthodox Commission for Theological Dialogue, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and the Congregation for the Oriental Churches over the years. He also served twice as the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities.
In Baltimore, Cardinal Keeler worked hard to secure funding for at-risk children and youth to attend Catholic schools in the archdiocese. Today, the fund that bears his name has awarded more than 16,500 scholarships and has raised more than $70 million dollars in funding.
Other efforts of Cardinal Keeler include his hosting of both Sts. John Paul II and Mother Teresa of Calcutta during their visits to Baltimore, and his efforts to restore the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Sean Caine, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, told CNA that “the cardinal served the Archdiocese of Baltimore for 18 years,” a feat which made him third longest -serving bishop in the historic see. “He did so with great distinction, great clarity of vision and fidelity to the Church.”
Caine continued to explain the cardinal’s meaning to the city and the deep significance of his leadership over those nearly two decades.
“He was probably best known for his work in interfaith and ecumenical relations, which probably drew him close to Pope St. John Paul II, and that relationship bore particular fruit for the Archdiocese of Baltimore.”
During the Holy Father’s 1995 visit to Baltimore, the Pope “was the first and only sitting Pope to visit the Archdiocese of Baltimore,” Caine explained.
“He was a champion of Catholic education” and helped organize the local Catholic Charities’ comprehensive Catholic social services program, the Our Daily Bread Employment Center, Caine added. “It really is the cornerstone of Catholic Charities here in Baltimore.”
Archbishop Lori expressed that the city will feel the impact of Cardinal Keeler’s loss.
“Cardinal Keeler will be greatly missed,” Archbishop Lori wrote. “I am grateful to the Little Sisters for their devoted care for the Cardinal. May his noble priestly soul rest in peace!”
The Archdiocese of Baltimore asks that, in lieu of flowers, well-wishers make contributions to the Cardinal William H. Keeler Endowment Fund of the Catholic Community Foundation.