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Monsignor Arthur W. Bastress, former pastor of St. Alphonsus in downtown Baltimore, dies

Monsignor Arthur Bastress was made pastor of St. Alphonsus Liguori Church and Shrine, now the National Shrine of St. Alphonsus Liguori, in 1998. He held the post until his retirement in 2017.
Monsignor Arthur Bastress was made pastor of St. Alphonsus Liguori Church and Shrine, now the National Shrine of St. Alphonsus Liguori, in 1998. He held the post until his retirement in 2017.

Monsignor Arthur William Bastress, the former pastor of a historic Roman Catholic shrine in downtown Baltimore, died of cardiovascular disease Thursday at Mercy Ridge in Timonium.

He was 93 and lived for many years at the National Shrine of Saint Alphonsus Liguori at Park Avenue and Saratoga Street. He was earlier pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church on Loch Raven Boulevard.

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Born in Baltimore, he was the son of Arthur Milton Bastress, who rose from freight clerk to be president of the Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad, and his wife, Francis Elizabeth Sellman. Raised on Edgewood Street, he attended St. Bernardine School and was a 1944 graduate of Loyola High School.

He then entered the seminary at St. Charles College and earned a bachelor’s degree from St. Mary’s Seminary on Paca Street. He also had a degree in sacred theology from St. Mary’s Seminary in Roland Park. He was ordained a priest in 1951 and later earned a master’s degree at St. Mary’s.

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Monsignor Arthur William Bastress, pictured in March 1980, had a love of trains.
Monsignor Arthur William Bastress, pictured in March 1980, had a love of trains. (CHILDRESS / Check with Baltimore Sun Photo)

In a 2013 oral history, he recalled accompanying his father on inspection trips along the railroad in a Buick fitted with railroad wheels. He visited his father’s office on North Avenue and recalled hearing the loud steam whistles used on the line while a student at St. Mary’s in Roland Park, where he was later awarded an honorary doctorate.

He had assignments as a curate at St. Dominic Parish in Hamilton, and at St. Dominic in Cumberland, Holy Trinity in Glen Burnie. In 1970 he was named pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary and was also director of the archdiocese’s Permanent Deaconate Program.

He later was assigned to be temporary administrator of St. Andrew by the Bay in Cape Saint Claire and of St. Mary’s Church in Pylesville. He then became pastor of St. Jerome’s Church in Pigtown and was a temporary administrator at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Locust Point. He also served as temporary administrator at Saint Peter the Apostle on Poppleton Street in Southwest Baltimore.

He was made pastor of St. Alphonsus Liguori Church and Shrine, now the National Shrine of St. Alphonsus Liguori, in 1998 and held the post until his retirement in 2017.

Monsignor Arthur William Bastress is shown at National Shrine of St. Alphonsus Liguori in July 2009 with a restored window showing the leaded glass. The 1960s plastic overlays were being removed from the stained glass windows.
Monsignor Arthur William Bastress is shown at National Shrine of St. Alphonsus Liguori in July 2009 with a restored window showing the leaded glass. The 1960s plastic overlays were being removed from the stained glass windows. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

“He took the job when he was 71 and he was always up to a challenge,” said Father William Spacek, who worked with Monsignor Bastress at the church. “He gave his own salary to help pay the bills and he made sure they got paid. He soon embarked on a large restoration of the steeple, and the intersection of Park and Saratoga was closed so massive new beams could be installed.”

“It’s a remarkable landmark where you can’t help but experience a sense of history,” Monsignor Bastress said in a 2009 Baltimore Sun story. “And, yet, on one rainy Sunday morning a while back, there was so much water pouring through the roof, all you would have needed was a cake of soap and you could have taken a shower in the side aisle.”

The church, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was once a center for Baltimore’s German Catholic population and, later, home to Baltimore’s Lithuanian community. The church is associated with two saints, John Neumann and Francis Xavier Seelos.

Monsignor Bastress directed extensive exterior and structural repairs — there are nine separate roofs in the U-shaped complex. After stabilizing its 220-foot-high steeple and accompanying spires, Monsignor Bastress said, it was time to address the interior, including 32 stained-glass windows.

Monsignor Bastress celebrates a noon Mass in February 2013.
Monsignor Bastress celebrates a noon Mass in February 2013. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

The Sun described the windows by saying “Cobalt blues, ruby reds and oranges predominate in the glass panels, which is also filled with decorative painting, including fleurs-de-lis, and Christian symbols.”

Monsignor Bastress told the story of how an attorney in town for a convention visited the church for Sunday Mass.

“A couple months later, I got a letter from him with a check for $10,000,” he said. “He said he’d won an important legal case.”

His church had a traditional Latin Mass on Sundays. In a booklet he distributed about St. Alphonsus, he told the stories of how many downtown shoppers visited the church on trips to department stores before their closings.

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“The stores are all gone, but St. Alphonsus is still standing,” he wrote. “I want it to last another 100 years.”

He was awarded a Historic Preservation Award for 2013 by the nonprofit Baltimore Heritage Corporation for his efforts in stewardship and the restoration of St. Alphonsus Liguori Church.

Msgr. Bastress gives out Communion in February 2007.
Msgr. Bastress gives out Communion in February 2007. (ALGERINA PERNA / Baltimore Sun)

“His time at St. Alphonsus was some of the happiest in his life,” said a fellow priest, the Rev. Michael Roach, pastor of St. Bartholomew in Manchester. “He served everyone — the people from the suburbs who drove in and the people of downtown Baltimore.”

He was a sports fan and closely followed the Baltimore Colts and the Orioles.

Father Spacek said Monsignor Bastress enjoyed playing the organ, directing the choir and at times composing music for liturgies.

Monsignor Bastress had season tickets to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

Survivors include three brothers, John L Bastress of Ellicott City, Paul C. Bastress of Westminster and Robert L. Bastress of Sykesville; a sister, Sister Joan Marie Bastress of Scranton, Pennsylvania; and nieces and nephews.

A funeral Mass was held Monday at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen.

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