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Monsignor Austin L. Healy championed social justice


Monsignor Austin L. Healy, a Catholic priest who gave long service to residents of Baltimore's inner city, died Friday at St. Joseph Hospital of congestive heart failure and complications from cancer. He was 82.

The Baltimore native had been a patient at the hospital for three days. He had lived at Stella Maris Hospice since 1966, when, after two cancer operations, his doctor told him to retire.

Monsignor Healy was a leader in the Catholic church's work to minister to blacks in the inner city. In 1963, then-Archbishop Lawrence Shehan named him pastor of St. Martin's Church at Fayette Street and Fulton Avenue. He received the title of monsignor the same year.

That same year, Monsignor Healy gained worldwide attention when he, the Rev. Joseph M. Connolly and Protestant and Jewish clergy were arrested during a July 4 demonstration at Gwynn Oak Park, then a segregated amusement park on the west side of the city.

Monsignor Healy read his daily prayer book in the police wagon.

Father Connolly, now retired and living at Stella Maris, said he and Monsignor Healy were charged with trespassing, fingerprinted and held in jail about five hours.

"He was a champion for social justice," said Sister Mary Paul Lee of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, a black women's religious order in Baltimore.

Monsignor Healy helped start the Urban Commission of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, which worked with inner-city parishes, said Sister Mary Paul, a past chairwoman of the commission, which is now known as the Office of Urban Affairs.

Blacks still were sitting in the back of some churches in Baltimore in the 1960s, she said.

"He had a special knack of making everyone feel important," said Beverly Carroll, executive director of the Secretariat for African-American Catholics for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington. And he was the first to bring inner-city parishes together to work on educational and other programs, she said.

Monsignor Healy attended Calvert Hall College, the University of Maryland and Loyola College before studying for the priesthood at Mount St. Mary's Seminary. He was ordained in 1936.

In 1940, he joined the Army as a chaplain and served for six years in World War II, reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Monsignor Healy served at Nativity Church in Washington, D.C., the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in Baltimore, St. Joseph's in Sykesville and St. Stephen's in Bradshaw.

After his retirement, Monsignor Healy was appointed chaplain for the priests at Stella Maris and helped develop a retirement program for clergy and the Clergy Personnel Office.

When a friend told him he might be doing too much, Monsignor Healy said he would hate "to come to the end of the road" and realize there was something he could have done but didn't.

His body will lie in state at St. Joseph's Church in Texas from 10 to 10:45 a.m. Wednesday. A Mass of Christian burial will follow at 11 a.m.

He is survived by a brother, Monsignor Joseph F. Healy, at Stella Maris; three sisters, Catherine Brown of Bel Air, Mary Frances Burke of Baltimore, and A. Louise Healy of Towson; and nieces and nephews.

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