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Harford County priests remember Cardinal Keeler for his outreach, 'tireless' work ethic

Cardinal William Henry Keeler, the longtime leader of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, died Thursday. (Video by Ulysses Munoz)

The Rev. Jack Ward, the pastor of the St. Francis de Sales and Prince of Peace Catholic parishes in Abingdon and Edgewood, respectively, spent three years as the priest-secretary of the late Cardinal William H. Keeler.

"He was an incredibly tireless worker," Ward recalled Thursday.

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Cardinal Keeler, the longtime leader of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, died Thursday. He turned 86 this month.

The retired archbishop of Baltimore led the region's 500,000 Caothlics from 1989 to 2007 and was known internationally for his efforts to forge ties with believers of other faiths.

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Ward worked for the cardinal in the Archdiocese of Baltimore's headquarters in the city's downtown area from 1997 to 2000. He was responsible for Cardinal Keeler's appointment schedule, which included visits to parishes throughout the archdiocese each weekend, as well as trips to neighboring archdioceses in Pennsylvania and Virginia, even a trip to Rome in the late 1990s for the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul.

Ward said the cardinal started his days with a 7 a.m. mass, a breakfast meeting with staff and then spending the day meeting people at his office and handling administrative tasks, sometimes until 9 p.m.

"He was a seven-day-a-week guy; he just keep on going," Ward recalled. "The hardest thing for me, being his secretary, was trying to keep up with him."

Ward has been a priest for nearly 31 years. He has led Prince of Peace since 2010, and he was appointed as the pastor of St. Francis in 2015.

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He got the news in recent days that Cardinal Keeler was dying, and he visited his former boss Monday St. Martin's House for the Aged in Arbutus, where the Little Sisters of the Poor were caring for him.

The Baltimore Archdiocese has announced that the funeral mass for Cardinal William Henry Keeler, who died early Thursday, will be held at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, March 28, at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland.

Ward prayed the Rosary with Cardinal Keeler, who was unconscious. The cardinal passed away several days later.

"They were very devoted to him, and he to them," Ward said of the Little Sisters of the Poor. "He really loved them dearly."

Ward recalled a man known for "what I would call kind of a caustic wit," and famous for one-liners but also "very much a gentleman all the time."

The Rev. Dale Picarella, the pastor of the Church of St. Patrick in Havre de Grace, has been a pastor since 1984 and been assigned to parishes all over the Baltimore Archdiocese.

He said Cardinal Keeler was known for visiting parishes to meet with parishioners, members of the clergy, lay leaders and parish staff.

"He was interested in helping mobilize parishes to evangelize, a key understanding of their identity," Picarella said.

Cardinal William Henry Keeler, the longtime leader of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, died Thursday. (Video by Ulysses Munoz)

He said parishioners could evangelize through works of mercy and service.

Picarella said Cardinal Keeler also worked with parishes to ensure their financial stability.

He met the cardinal personally in 2004 when he was becoming pastor of Saint Philip Neri Parish in Linthicum near BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport.

"He met with me personally to talk about my vision and some goals," Picarella said. "He was very personable."

Picarella lauded the late cardinal for being able to work with Baltimore-area Catholics at all levels.

"He was able to deal with the big picture; he was able to meet with priests and parishioners on an individual level, Picarella said. "He was very flexible in his leadership that way."

Doug Donovan and Jacques Kelly of The Baltimore Sun contributed to this report.

WIliiam E. Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore, spoke about the many accomplishments of Cardinal William H. Keeler who died earlier this morning. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)
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