The Rev. George Frederick Romley, the former pastor of St. Mary's Antiochian Orthodox Church in Hunt Valley who led the construction of his congregation's permanent home, died Monday of diabetic complications at Good Samaritan Hospital. The Northeast Baltimore resident was 53.
Born in San Francisco, he received his religious training at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Mass., after serving as a medic and dental hygienist in the Coast Guard during the Vietnam War.
In 1981, about 30 Antiochian Orthodox families in the Baltimore area called Father Romley to be their congregation's full-time spiritual leader. Among his duties, he was to build them a church.
According to a St. Mary's parish history, a neighboring Cockeysville Roman Catholic pastor, Monsignor Paul G. Cook, lent the group space at his church for services until the congregation secured land and built a home.
"Father George was a very special guy in my book. He was a special human being and a leader in the Orthodox religion. He was also very highly thought of," said former Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, a former member of his congregation.
"He developed St. Mary's, and he built the first phase of the church. He was one of the kindest and most gentle men I've ever met, and he had a brilliant mind," she said.
Father Romley worked with his Men's Fellowship to raise money. They raffled a car to help pay for nearly 6 acres on Shawan Road. The congregation also faced zoning issues and a battery of tests to determine if the land was suitable for construction. Building began in 1990.
Mrs. Bentley recalled an incident from the summer of 1992, when the Yugoslav ship Durmitor and its 28-member crew were stranded at the Dundalk Marine Terminal because of a presidential order to freeze the assets of companies believed to be owned by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
Father Romley took a tugboat to the Durmitor, climbed aboard with a suitcase containing several religious icons and, at the captain's request, held a Holy Communion service, according to an article in The Sun.
The captain told the pastor that the ship's stock of fresh fruit and vegetables was depleted. The next day, Father Romley and Mrs. Bentley arranged to have a half-ton of produce, bread and cake sent to the ship. The priest later held a dinner for the crew at the church.
"We wanted to give them a day of fun and a good time to take their minds off the worry, to do whatever we could to alleviate some of the pain they must be feeling," he said in a 1992 Sun article.
"It was in his nature to be outgoing to people," said his son, Nicholas Frederick Romley, a student at Michigan State University who lives in East Lansing, Mich. "The priesthood was good for him because he genuinely cared about people. People would talk to him easily, and he enjoyed seeing smiles on their faces."
In 1999, because of failing health, Father Romley took a leave of absence from the church.
Services were held Wednesday at St. Mary's Church.
In addition to his son, survivors include his mother, Mary Romley of Burbank, Calif., and a brother, Fred Romley of New York City. His marriage to Theresa Tgibides ended in divorce.
Sun staff member Frederick Rasmussen contributed to this article.