Monsignor Edward Michael Miller, the longtime pastor of St. Bernardine's Roman Catholic Church who was recalled as the "shepherd" of West Baltimore, died Sunday as he prepared to say Mass. He was 68.
Monsignor Miller was found by parish members when he did not arrive at the church, where he had been pastor for 33 years. He had suffered a heart attack.
"He was part of the urban Roman Catholic fabric in Baltimore," said City Council member Carl Stokes. "Every good urban Catholic knew Father Miller. He was in the streets as much as he was in his church. He was also able to cross religious denominations and hang out with the Baptist ministers."
He embraced African-American traditions and incorporated them into the Roman Catholic liturgy while keeping ties to the generations of families he served from the Park Heights to Edmondson Village neighborhoods.
"He knew all the connections with his old families and his new converts," said a classmate, the Rev. Michael Roach, pastor of St. Bartholomew's Church in Manchester. "He filled his church. He was also marvelously independent. He called the ecclesiastical bureaucrats 'the suits.' He was truly the shepherd of Edmondson Village."
Born in Baltimore, he was the son of James Miller, who owned the Modern Stationery, and Ruth Vahle Miller, a homemaker. He grew up on Ellamont Street and later lived in Parkville. He entered the religious life at the old St. Charles Seminary in Catonsville for high school studies and then completed his college education at St. Mary's Seminary on Paca Street.
"Early on, perhaps at the age of 8, he knew what he wanted to do," said his older brother, James H. Miller, who is a member of the Congregation of the Holy Cross and lives in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
He then studied at St. Mary's Seminary and University in Roland Park. Cardinal Lawrence J. Shehan ordained him in 1971.
As a seminarian in the 1960s, he was assigned to West Baltimore's St. Gregory's parish at Baker and Gilmor streets. He worked in a youth ministry.
"He transformed that community," said Paulette Long, who first met Monsignor Miller 46 years ago as a teen. "We were poor and living in the Gilmor Homes. He taught us there was something else in the world. He took us to a restaurant when we had never been to a real restaurant. He exposed us to the theater. He organized a cotillion. And he was like a family member."
She recalled that Monsignor Miller also drove her to classes at College Park, where she earned a college degree.
"When I had no way of getting to my prom at Eastern High School, he drove my date and I," said Ms. Long, who now teaches nursing at Baltimore City Community College. "He married me, and when my family members were sick, he was there for them."
Friends recalled his "open, extravagant heart." They said he filled his living quarters with photographs of the children he had baptized and the couples he had married.
He was a deacon at St. Ambrose Parish in Park Heights and in 1975 came to St. Bernardine in a shared ministry pastoral service. He also served as acting director of the Baltimore Archdiocese's Urban Commission from 1978 to 1980, the year he was appointed pastor of St. Bernardine's on Edmondson Avenue in Edmondson Village. He was named a monsignor in 2009.
"I met Ed Miller when he was a seminarian at St. Gregory's and have traveled to any church where he served," said James Hunt, who runs a cleaning service.
"He loved gospel music and the African-American style of worship and allowed us to incorporate it into our liturgy," Mr. Hunt said. "He preached like a Baptist minister and he was also known as a revivalist. Over the years he loved us and we just loved him back. He made St. Bernardine's into one of the largest black congregations in the country."
Louise Keelty, a member of his parish, recalled his ability to relate to generations. "He would talk to everybody. He knew kids and their parents. It was all a family to him. He didn't intend it to be, but he was St. Bernardine's," she said.
The Morning Sun Newsletter
Get your morning news in your e-mail inbox. Get all the top news and sports from the baltimoresun.com.
According to a biography supplied by the archdiocese, he had attended the Paulist Institute of Evangelization, the Billy Graham Evangelization School, the Robert Schuller Institute for Church Growth and institutes held by the National Office for Black Catholics.
During a six-month sabbatical in 1996, he traveled throughout the East Coast and Midwest with the goal of improving his ministry to the African-American Catholic community.
At his death, he held the post of Vicar Forane for the Metro West Area of the Archdiocese.