The Rev. Frederick S. Thomas Jr., longtime Episcopal rector, dies

Episcopal rector favored London vacations, English mysteries and fine cigars.

The Rev. Frederick S. Thomas Jr., longtime rector of historic Grace & St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Mount Vernon, died May 26 at Stella Maris Hospice in Timonium of respiratory and renal failure. The Guilford resident was 67.

"Fred was a good friend, and I am very sad over his death," said the Rev. John L. Rabb, former bishop suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland for 12 years until his resignation in 2011.

"He was a beautiful person and a wonderful priest," Bishop Rabb said. "He gave his heart and soul to being a good priest."

"He was the consummate parish priest, and what be brought to us was a genuine and deep inspiring love of the Mass and the liturgy," said Richard E. Bavaria, the church's senior warden. "He had a strong singing voice, and the people responded to it. If any priest loved celebrating Mass more than he did, then I don't know who they are."

The son of Frederick S. Thomas Sr., a drugstore owner, and Elizabeth Whitney, a homemaker, Frederick Shepherd Thomas Jr. was born and raised in Erwin, N.C., and graduated in 1966 from Erwin High School.

He received a bachelor's degree in 1970 from Sewanee: The University of the South in Tennessee, and a master's in divinity in 1973 from General Theological Seminary in New York City.

Father Thomas was ordained into the priesthood in 1973 by Maryland Bishop David K. Leighton Sr. at Mount Calvary Episcopal Church on Eutaw Street.

He began his 39-year tenure at Grace & St. Peter's as assistant rector in 1977. Following the retirement of the Rev. Edward Palmer Rementer in 1987, he became rector of the church, which dates to 1852 and is known as Baltimore's traditional Anglo-Catholic parish.

"Fred found his home when he came to us, and we were glad to be his home," said Mr. Bavaria, a Guilford resident.

"Theologically, we're slightly to the right of the rest of the diocese and slightly to the left socially," Father Thomas told The Baltimore Sun in a 1998 interview. "We use traditional English, meaning Elizabethan English."

"The liturgy is High Church: the sacrament of the Eucharist is a focus, with a sung High Mass every Sunday," The Sun wrote.

In addition to his pastoral duties, Father Thomas taught religion classes at the Grace & St. Peter's school, which since 2010 has been known as The Wilkes School at Grace & St. Peter's. Students who attend the Park Avenue school range from prekindergarten through the fifth grade.

The church and its school have always been integrated and date to a time when other religious institutions maintained segregation of the races.

"He was a brilliant guy who had stories about obscure saints and the children responded well to them," said Sandra Shull, head of the school. "He loved the children, and they loved him, too.

"He was extraordinarily witty. He would enter the classroom saying, 'Holy, Holy Bullwinkle,'" Ms. Shull said with a laugh. "He could make the funniest comments, and even though he had a great sense of humor, he took teaching religion very seriously.

"You could disagree with him — and we did at times — but he never held a grudge like some people do. He just didn't have it in him," she said. "You could be very honest with him, and it was fine."

"Fred always saw the best in everyone and sometimes naively," said the Rev. James Casciotti, pastor of St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church in Mount Vernon and a friend of nearly 40 years. "He liked to visit the sick and worried about parishioners if they were missing — and then he'd go and check on them."

Father Casciotti recalled that Father Thomas would sign documents: "Faithfully, your priest."

"A faithful priest is how I will remember him," he said. "He was very loyal and never abandoned people."

"His life was the church and the school," said Charles F. Peace IV, Thomas' life partner of nearly 40 years. "He had a warm and caring personality and was so patient with people."

Since 1924, the church has maintained a mission to serve the city's Chinese immigrants.

"He understood the history of the Chinese community and the church and the importance of it," said Pat Hom of Bethesda, parish treasurer. "He was a big supporter of the Chinese community and celebrating Chinese New Year. He understood the importance of that relationship and its continuance."

Fay Lee, a Reisterstown resident and member of the church vestry, said Father Thomas was "very friendly and could talk on a variety of issues. He always wanted to improve his sermons and lectures, which were well planned.

"He liked what he did, and you knew it," Ms. Lee said. "We all loved him."

Father Thomas and Bishop Rabb both served on the board of the Joseph Richey Hospice, and the bishop said of his colleague: "His support and commitment was total."

Father Thomas lived in the 900 block of N. Calvert St. for 34 years before moving to Guilford in 2012. He enjoyed collecting vintage pocket watches and Chinese export porcelain items. He also enjoyed spending time at a second home in Cambridge.

"He was an Anglophile and had a love of British detective stories [and] traveling to London, where he took in West End shows and went shopping at Harrods," Mr. Peace said.

A cigar smoker, Father Thomas was seldom without a fine Hoyo de Monterrey Excalibur or Punch cigar.

"He was a raconteur and did he love telling stories," Mr. Bavaria said.

A Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Saturdayat his church, 707 Park Ave.

In addition to Mr. Peace, he is survived by many cousins.

frasmussen@baltsun.com

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