The Rev. Monsignor John J. Auer, the longest-serving priest in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, died of complications of an infection and dementia on Aug. 14 at Little Sisters of the Poor, St. Martin’s Home in Catonsville. He was 92.
“He was truly present to people, individually and also extraordinarily to the parish as a whole,” said Bishop Adam Parker, auxiliary bishop of Baltimore. “People looked to him as someone who they could always turn to in times of trouble or in times of joy, to celebrate a baptism of their child or to celebrate their wedding.”
Msgr. Auer was born on Nov. 13, 1929, to William Lester Auer, a BGE auditor, and Catherine (Wetzler) Auer, a homemaker, in Baltimore and baptized at St. Joseph’s Monastery in Irvington.
After graduating from Mt. St. Joseph High School in 1947, he attended the Johns Hopkins University as a pre-med student and graduated in 1952 with a degree in chemistry. The chaplain of the Newman Club, Fr. Walter Gouch, encouraged Msgr. Auer’s interest in the priesthood while he was a student, according to an obituary from the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
Msgr. Auer studied philosophy at St. Mary’s Seminary Paca Street and theology at St. Mary’s Seminary in Roland Park. After he was ordained in 1957, he was assigned to be assistant priest at St. Jane Frances de Chantal in Rivera Beach. In 1962, he joined the St. James Missionary Society, a group founded by Cardinal Richard Cushing of Boston that sent English-speaking priests to Latin America for five years.
After studying Spanish in Peru, Msgr. Auer worked in Quito, Ecuador until 1967. After his parishioners told him that no bank would accept their small deposits, he helped form a credit union that locals still refer to as “Padre Auer’s,” said his nephew Charles Auer. “He was someone who saw to the spiritual needs of his flock but he also looked after the financial and social and emotional and other needs,” Mr. Auer said.
His fluency in Spanish was a useful skill when he returned to Baltimore, where he was one of few priests in the Archdiocese at the time who could give homilies and hear confessions in Spanish, his nephew said. Msgr. Auer was appointed director of the Spanish Apostolate soon after returning from Latin America, according to the Archdiocese’s obituary.
Over the next few decades, he primarily worked at churches in Baltimore City and in Anne Arundel County, including Holy Trinity in Glen Burnie and St. Brigid in Baltimore. He was the pastor at Our Lady of the Fields in Millersville when now-Bishop Adam Parker first met him as a junior in high school.
During Bishop Parker’s late high school and early college years, Msgr. Auer was an invaluable guide in the process of discerning whether the priesthood was his vocation. At Bishop Parker’s ordination, he chose Msgr. Auer to vest him during the mass, dressing him as a priest for the first time.
“Msgr. Auer was very instrumental in helping me to ask the right questions about the priesthood,” Bishop Parker said. “He had a real gift for seeing the gifts in other people and helping people to realize those gifts and to use them for good.”
Msgr. Auer was generous with his belongings as well as his guidance, even giving Bishop Parker his old Dodge Aries K when the young seminarian needed transportation to his summer parish internship.
He retired in 2002. Pope John Paul II named him a papal chamberlain, with the title “Monsignor,” in 2003. Msgr. Auer took up residence at St. John the Evangelist in Severna Park, where he continued to celebrate weddings, funerals and baptisms for more than a decade, Bishop Parker said.
“Even in retirement, he never took his foot off the accelerator of his priestly ministry,” Bishop Parker said. Although it is not uncommon for retired priests to continue their ministry in a limited capacity, Bishop Parker said what set Msgr. Auer apart was his full commitment to the work.
His nephew said that Msgr. Auer enjoyed golf, sailing and skiing and taught his nephew’s children proper sailing technique and how to ski. He also loved the fine arts, including attending shows and symphonies.
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“He took up painting in his 50s and became quite good at watercolors,” Mr. Auer said, giving many paintings away to friends, parishioners and colleagues.
In one of his nephew’s favorite memories, Msgr. Auer was visiting for Christmas when a snowstorm delayed his departure and inspired the family to watch the show “Downton Abbey.” Msgr. Auer further extended his holiday stay in order to finish watching more of the show’s seasons.
Msgr. Auer officiated at the baptisms and weddings of his grand-nieces and grand-nephews, as well as the funerals of his grand-niece Sarah Elizabeth Auer and grand-nephew Matthew Stephen Auer. “We considered him our family priest, he fulfilled that role for the past 65 years,” Mr. Auer said. “He has been an integral part of all of life’s ups and downs over the past many decades.”
With a wry sense of humor, a beautiful smile and an approachable manner, Msgr. Auer made a lasting impression on parishioners, who sent letters of appreciation that his nephew received when he kept his uncle’s mail during his final years.
“Many of us felt that we were in the presence of a Saint when we were with him,” wrote parishioner Shirley Sciortino in a text message. Mrs. Sciortino first met Msgr. Auer more than 50 years ago when she and her husband began attending Holy Trinity in Glen Burnie.
A funeral mass for Msgr. Auer was held Tuesday at Our Lady of the Fields in Millersville and was livestreamed on the church’s YouTube channel.
In addition to his nephew Charles, Msgr. Auer is survived by his nephews Stephen, Gregory and Robert Auer, his nieces Barbara Auer Hertz, Mary Auer Waters and Kathleen Auer Mihm, and their 12 children and 10 grandchildren. His older brother William died before him.
An earlier version of this obituary misidentified the names of the Rev. Msgr. John J. Auer's father and his great-nephew. The Baltimore Sun regrets the errors.