By George P. Matysek Jr.
WASHINGTON (CNS) – Cardinal William H. Keeler, Baltimore’s 14th archbishop, who was an international leader in Catholic-Jewish relations and the driving force behind the restoration of America’s first cathedral, died March 23 at his residence at St. Martin’s Home for the Aged in Catonsville, Md. He was 86.
His funeral was scheduled for March 28 at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, also in Baltimore.
Pope Francis, in a papal telegram, sent condolences to Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori and the archdiocese, expressing gratitude for “Cardinal Keeler’s years of devoted episcopal ministry” and his “long-standing commitment to ecumenical and interreligious understanding. He called the cardinal a “wise and gentle pastor.”
“One of the great blessings in my life was coming to know Cardinal Keeler,” Archbishop Lori said. “Cardinal Keeler will be greatly missed. I am grateful to the Little Sisters for their devoted care for the cardinal.”
Cardinal Keeler was the bishop of Harrisburg, Pa., when he was appointed the 14th archbishop of Baltimore in 1989. Pope John Paul II made him a cardinal in 1994. He retired in 2007. As president of the U.S. bishops’ conference from 1992 to 1995, he participated in a wide range of national and international issues.
As part of his work with what is now the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Keeler developed a reputation for effectively building interfaith bonds. He is particularly noted for his work in furthering Catholic-Jewish dialogue. He was appointed moderator of Catholic-Jewish Relations for the USCCB.
“As a priest, bishop of Harrisburg and archbishop of Baltimore, the cardinal worked to bring the hope of Christ to people’s lives,” said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston Houston, Texas, who is president of the USCCB. “He also built bridges of solidarity to people of other faiths as a leader in ecumenism and interreligious affairs.
“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,’” Cardinal DiNardo said in a statement.
He called the late cardinal “a servant of priestly virtue and gentlemanly manner” who is remembered by the USCCB for “his generosity of spirit in service to his brothers and the people of God.”
Cardinal Keeler’s death leaves the College of Cardinals with 223 members, 17 of whom are from the United States. The College of Cardinals has 117 members under the age of 80 and eligible to vote in a conclave.
In his statement, Archbishop Lori remarked on “the respect and esteem” in which the cardinal was held by his brother bishops, and praised his leadership in Jewish-Catholic relations and in Orthodox-Catholic relations.
Archbishop Lori also said he was known for his “prowess as a church historian” and had a “deep love and respect for the history and heritage of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.”
Cardinal Keeler was an ardent promoter of the Catholic Church’s teaching on the sanctity of all human life. He twice served as chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Pro-Life Activities and testified at all levels of government on legislation ranging from abortion to euthanasia to capital punishment.
Among the cardinal’s many accomplishments in the Baltimore Archdiocese, Archbishop Lori highlighted “the wonderful visit of Pope St. John Paul II to Baltimore in 1995, the restoration of the Basilica of the Assumption and the creation of Partners in Excellence which has helped thousands of young people from disadvantaged neighborhoods to receive a sound Catholic education.”