John J. Canfield, Catholic priest


The Rev. John Joseph Canfield, S.S., a retired priest whose work served the Roman Catholic priesthood in Baltimore for about three decades, died Tuesday of heart failure at St. Martin's Home for the Aged in Catonsville. He was 77.

Father Canfield served and taught his fellow priests for 28 years at St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore before retiring as its vice president in 1986. During those years, his work included teaching dogmatic theology, editing the seminary's alumni magazine, and serving as vice rector.

From 1968 to 1970, he was the seminary's vice president and rector of its school of theology.

Among the things for which he was best remembered, a longtime colleague said, was his involvement as vice president of alumni affairs from 1970 to 1986.

In 1986, health problems required the priest to move to St. Charles Villa, the Sulpician order's retirement home. There he continued his activities as alumni news editor for the magazine, a position he retained until his death.

He read more than 100 diocesan newspapers weekly to help keep track of the school's 9,000 alumni from all over the United States.

Father Canfield was the son of James Francis and Mary Ellen Claffey Canfield and received his early education in his hometown of Waterbury, Conn. He attended Boston College, St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield, Conn., and St. Mary's Seminary on Paca Street in Baltimore, where he received a degree in philosophy in 1942.

He continued his education at St. Mary's School of Theology in Roland Park, where he earned a baccalaureate in sacred theology in 1944 and his licentiate in sacred theology in 1945. He was ordained a priest by Archbishop Henry J. O'Brien of Hartford, Conn., in 1945.

In 1946 and 1947, he took his Solitude, a type of novitiate, in the Society of St. Sulpice, a group dedicated to the education and formation of Catholic priests, and was subsequently granted membership.

Because of his aptitude for languages, he was sent in 1948 to Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., to study Latin and Greek, earning a master's degree there in 1949.

He taught a year at St. Charles College in Catonsville and then was transferred to St. Joseph's College in Mountain View, Calif., where he taught Latin and Greek from 1949 to 1958. In 1958, he returned to St. Mary's Seminary, where he earned his doctorate in sacred theology in 1961.

He enjoyed reading mystery novels, and like author G. K. Chesterton's legendary detective, Father Brown, he actually had the opportunity to assist the FBI on a real case. Two valuable paintings, one of St. Paul and one of St. Peter, that had been willed to St. Mary's Seminary in 1894 by Severn Teackle Wallis, a St. Mary's alumnus and prominent 19th century Baltimore lawyer and reformer, had been stolen in 1973 from the seminary's prayer room.

In 1980, FBI agents in a raid on a New York art gallery thought they had discovered the missing artwork because they were backstamped with "St. Mary's Seminary."

Called to Newburgh, N.Y., by the FBI, Father Canfield quickly unraveled the mystery surrounding the paintings. The artist listed on the captured paintings was "A. Ludovico, 1927," and the paintings removed from St. Mary's Seminary were of a superior quality and were older, according to Father Canfield.

The paintings stolen from St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore have never been recovered.

Another of the priest's interests was cars, said Joseph Reynolds, executive assistant to the Provincial of the Sulpicians.

"He loved to tinker with cars, especially a '57 Chevy blue convertible that he had driven across the country," said Mr. Reynolds. "He even had a Studebaker that he enjoyed working on and had to get special permission from Father Lloyd McDonald, the Provincial in Baltimore, in order to use the garage at St. Mary's."

However, his increasing alumni activities took him away from repairing old cars.

A memorial Mass for Father Canfield will be offered at 11 a.m. tomorrow at St. Martin's Home for the Aged, 601 Maiden Choice Lane, Catonsville. A public viewing will be conducted at St. Mary's Seminary and University Chapel, 5400 Roland Avenue, Roland Park, from 2 p.m. until 9 p.m. tomorrow. A Mass of Christian burial will be offered there at 11 a.m. Tuesday.

Father Canfield is survived by a sister, Mrs. Bernard King of Norristown, Pa.; and many nieces and nephews.

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