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Msgr. Richard E. Parks, pastor of Dundalk congregation

Monsignor Richard E. Parks, pastor of Sacred Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church in Graceland Park for 25 years who was also a city Fire Department chaplain, died of cancer Feb. 19 at Stella Maris Hospice. He was 80.

Monsignor Parks was remembered by friends for his caring personality and the lasting friendships he established wherever he went.

"He never thought of himself," said the Rev. George Gannon, current pastor of Sacred Heart of Mary. "He was generous with his time and had an ability to ascertain just what people needed."

Born in Baltimore and raised on Aiken Street, he was the son of a Lever Bros. stationary engineer and a homemaker. He and his twin brother, Joseph W. Parks, entered the seminary as teens. His brother later left and became a Howard County probation officer.

Monsignor Parks, who attended St. Paul's School in East Baltimore, was a graduate of the old St. Charles College in Catonsville. He also attended the old St. Mary's Seminary on Paca Street in Seton Hill and earned a degree at St. Mary's Seminary & University in Roland Park. He was ordained in 1959.

As a curate, he was assigned to St. Jerome's Church on Scott Street in Southwest Baltimore.

"He created a tremendous bond with the youth of the parish. He was like an uncle," said Ginny King, who grew up in Pigtown and now lives in Timonium. "He initiated a junior Catholic Youth Organization and kept us off the streets Friday nights from 7 to 10."

He subsequently served at St. Luke's in Edgemere and at Sacred Heart of Mary in Graceland Park, a section of Dundalk known for its close-knit family connections.

"He let me in his kindergarten when my parish didn't have one. I never forgot that," said Dana Pickering, a Dundalk resident and friend of 42 years. "He was a wise person, and when I needed to talk seriously, he would say, 'Let's take a walk at the Concord Point Lighthouse.' We couldn't go to a restaurant. He knew too many people who would interrupt."

A nephew, George Michael Morris of Catonsville, said his uncle brought a nonjudgmental approach to his ministry. "It was unbelievable what he could get people to do," his nephew said. "He used common-sense methods based upon the Scriptures to solve problems."

In 1977, he was named pastor of Holy Cross Church in Federal Hill and five years later returned to Sacred Heart of Mary as pastor.

Monsignor Parks became a city Fire Department chaplain. In 1984, he told a Baltimore Sun reporter of his experience at one fire scene, seeing "the firefighters standing there crying — the fire was so intense, they had to stand there, totally helpless."

When he asked the firefighters how they could endure so much suffering, he was told, "Father, you ought to be here when we're able to save lives."

He was also called upon to conduct military funerals.

"He was an amazing priest," said Scott P. Gardner, a friend of 32 years who is vice president of Duda-Ruck Funeral Home in Dundalk. "He was compassionate, sympathetic and empathetic. He was a great defender of youth and worked hard to keep his own parish school open."

He said that Monsignor Parks also enthusiastically assisted in his parish's annual summertime carnival held on the church grounds.

"It was once a 10-day carnival, and it was like a reunion for all your friends," said Lorraine Ludwig of Dundalk. "All his friends from the churches he had served returned, too."

He also embraced the numerous families of Polish descent in his parish and offered an annual polka Mass.

"It was a traditional Mass with hymns played in a polka tempo, accompanied by an accordion, clarinet and sax," said Constance Brzozowski of Dundalk. "We'd also see him at the Boulevard Diner with his pie and vanilla ice cream. He always had a lighthearted story ready."

He also opened the parish auditorium to polka dances.

"He was well-liked and was truly a people's priest," said Albert Chesnavage, a retired member of the Coast Guard and a retired church deacon. "He helped everybody."

He was elevated to monsignor in 1999. He retired in 2007 but remained active. He was featured in a Sun article last year when he officiated at the funeral of a World War II soldier whose body was identified in a French grave and brought back to Baltimore to be reinterred.

"Anything he had, it was yours," said a niece, Kathy Yelshin of Odenton. "He also had a little trick to help nervous brides at the altar. He whispered little jokes to them. He just had a presence, the right thing at the right time."

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. Saturday at Sacred Heart of Mary, 6736 Youngstown Ave.

Survivors include his brother, who lives in Glen Burnie, and other nieces and nephews.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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