Alan M. Rose, a former college English professor who became a Roman Catholic deacon and whose prison ministry included leading convicted child murderer and Death Row inmate Kirk N. Bloodsworth to Catholicism, died Sunday of cancer at Gilchrist Center Towson.
The Parkville resident was 88.
“Al was a great, gentle, kind and a self-effacing man,” said the Rev. H. Martin “Marty” Hammond, former pastor of St. Isaac Jogues Roman Catholic Church in Carney, where Mr. Rose had been a deacon.
“He had a passion for the poor, and when he was a prison chaplain, he was among the roughest of the roughest, and had been there for executions,” said Father Hammond, an Elkridge resident. “He was an amazing man, and I admired him because he was a real man of love and service.”
Elinor Burkett, a New York City resident, was on the history faculty at Frostburg State University in 1975, where Mr. Rose was an English professor.
“We were an unlikely pair of friends: The buttoned-down English professor who’d come up from the Naval Academy and the young history professor who was a young radical trying to shake things up,” Dr. Burkett, a former Miami Herald journalist who is now an author, wrote in an email.
“But Al’s ‘package’ was always deceiving. When I began working with Baltimore City students being recruited to live in that lily-white mountain town, it was Al who was my firmest ally,” Dr. Burkett wrote.
“When students with learning disabilities needed help, it was Al who pushed for special assistance for them. It was hardly surprising that when he retired and was ordained as a deacon, he opted to go to work in the prison system,” she wrote.
“After all, this is the man who quit the local country club in Frostburg when it refused to admit black applicants, the only faculty member to do so,” she wrote.
Alan Manuel Rose was born and raised in Chicago, the son of Alvin Rose, Chicago welfare commissioner and later Public Housing director, and Anita Rose, a homemaker.
He was a graduate Senn High School in Chicago and was stationed at Bainbridge Naval Center as a clerk while serving in the Navy from 1950 to 1954.
Dr. Rose, who had earlier attended Colorado College and the University of Wisconsin, transferred to the Johns Hopkins University, from which he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1956 and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He received both his master’s and doctoral degrees in English from Columbia University.
Literary interests included Victorian literature and English Romantic literature.
From 1958 to 1968, he was on the faculty of the Naval Academy, and while in Annapolis, the accomplished fencer was fencing coach at St. John’s College.
One of the prisoners Dr. Rose got to know and counsel at the penitentiary was Kirk N. Bloodsworth, the former Marine and Eastern Shore waterman who was convicted in 1985 of the 1984 rape and murder of Dawn Hamilton, a 9-year old Rosedale resident, and sentenced to Death Row.
During his years at the penitentiary, Dr. Rose had heard plenty of inmates’ stories about their innocence.
“You work enough years among inmates and you get a feel how guys tell stories,” he told The Catholic Review in a 2007 article. “There was no question in my mind that this guy was speaking the truth.”
The two became close friends, with Dr. Rose and Mr. Bloodsworth spending hours in deep theological discussions.
“He certainly helped get me through because he always believed in me and he ushered me into the Catholic Church,” said Mr. Bloodsworth, who now lives near Philadelphia. “He came for weekly visits and they let him in my cell. He was a wonderful human being, and I became a Catholic while in prison.”
Mr. Bloodsworth had been studying his catechism for months, and by Easter 1989, was ready to be received into the church.
“Al got Bishop John Ricard to come in, and we stood underneath the gas chamber,” he recalled.
A prison guard then asked Bishop Ricard to leave Mr. Bloodsworth’s cell.
“He administered the sacraments and put his hands through the bars to bless me. It was quite a moment for me,” Mr. Bloodsworth said, who told The Catholic Review in a 2012 interview, that after taking Communion for the first time, he felt that it was “an honor” and “I felt clean. I felt accepted.”
Mr. Bloodsworth’s mother, Jeanette Bloodsworth, died five months before DNA evidence proved the innocence that he had long proclaimed.
“Al was there when they told me of my mother’s death. He was there I was given leave, and Al and two guards went with me to view my mother’s remains in Cambridge,” he said. “He came with a friend of mine and they helped soften the blow. He was with me at a terrible moment in my life.”
“I told Kirk that your mom is up there in heaven,” Dr. Rose told The Catholic Review in 2012. “The saints do intercede for us and I just believe that lady had something to do with him getting the break with the DNA evidence.”
Mr. Bloodsworth, who was released from prison in 1993 and also pardoned that year, became the first American on Death Row to be exonerated through DNA testing.
After leaving prison work, Dr. Rose served as chaplain from 1995 to the mid-2000s at the Joseph Richey House in downtown Baltimore, which is now the Gilchrist Center at Baltimore.
Dr. Rose was a deacon at St. Isaac Jogues for more than a decade, where he volunteered with its Special Friends, ministering to adults with developmental disabilities and their families.
He also led skill development groups and taught GED for low-income adults with mental illness at Mosaic Community Services in Towson, which is part of the Sheppard Pratt Health System.
“I always knew when the Lord moved him on to other opportunities,” Father Hammond said.
For years until moving in 2015 to the Oak Crest Retirement Community in Parkville, Dr. Rose and his wife of 66 years, the former Abbie Herring, lived at Sleepy Acres, once the home of Odie Boone Herring, on Autumn Leaf Road in Towson, that dates to 1903.
“I spoke with him a few weeks ago on the phone and I told him I loved him, and he told me the same thing,” Mr. Bloodsworth said.
“I thought of him as a sort of Old Testament figure --- not the fire and brimstone but the belief in doing what is right for right’s sake,” wrote Dr. Burkett.
His son. Scott Rose of Frederick, who is also a deacon, said his father’s hobbies were “his family and his ministry.”
A funeral service will be held at noon Saturday at St. Isaac Jogues, 9215 Old Harford Road.