William C. Newman Jr., a longtime auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, who oversaw the Catholic schools and chose the priesthood over a chance to play professional baseball, died Saturday of heart failure at Mercy Ridge retirement community in Timonium. He was 88.
A Baltimore native, Bishop Newman was an auxiliary bishop for Baltimore, Harford and Anne Arundel counties for nearly two decades until his retirement in 2003. He also served nearly a decade as the archdiocese's superintendent of schools and two years as secretary of education.
"Bishop Newman was universally loved and admired and will long be remembered for his kind demeanor and his humble and generous service to the faithful of this, his home Archdiocese, for so many years," Baltimore Archbishop William Lori said in a statement.
A standout first baseman at Calvert Hall College High School, and eventually a member of the high school hall of fame, Bishop Newman turned down an offer to play Minor League baseball to become a priest, said his sister, Doris Piasecki, 91, of Berlin, Md.
"From a young age, he had that calling," she said. "I don't remember him thinking of anything else. He really did love baseball. But when it came to making a choice, the priesthood was the main thing."
The son of William C. Newman Sr., a traveling salesman, and Mabel Evans, a homemaker, William Clifford Newman Jr. was the only son in a big Catholic family of eight children; he had seven sisters.
"My oldest sister always said it was her job to make sure he didn't get spoiled," Piasecki said.
He worked at the corner grocery store and graduated from Calvert Hall in 1946. After high school, Bishop Newman earned a bachelor's degree from St. Mary's Seminary in 1950 and a licentiate of sacred theology from The Catholic University in 1954. On May 29,1954, he was ordained to the priesthood.
He would later earn a master's degree in education, administration and supervision from Loyola College — now Loyola University Maryland — in 1965, with additional credits in counseling.
Bishop Newman began six decades in the priesthood as an assistant pastor at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Roman Catholic Church near Patterson Park. He served eight years, then was assigned to St. Paul's Latin High School, serving from 1962 to 1967. He was the school's first principal.
He was appointed superintendent of schools for the archdiocese in June 1967, and he served in the role nearly a decade. He served as secretary of education for the archdiocese from 1972 to 1974.
"He didn't see himself as qualified, but he said 'yes' because that's what he was asked to do," said the Rev. Willie Franken, of St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in Aberdeen. "He was a very humble, gentle man who was totally dedicated to the priesthood."
He returned to parish work in 1976 as pastor of SS. Philip and James Catholic Church in Charles Village, and in 1981 as rector of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen. He was ordained an auxiliary bishop in 1984.
Bishop Newman retired in 2003, noting the challenge the archdiocese faces in allocating a dwindling number of priests to growing suburban parishes.
"It's a tough job, especially in this day and age," he told The Baltimore Sun. "The challenge is really, I think, to efficiently place personnel resources, especially pastors, and encourage parishes to work together because of the fewer priests that we have."
Bishop Newman often went to Orioles baseball games and he enjoyed attending Opening Day. Father Franken and Bishop Newman made trips to New York City, touring Manhattan and watching the Broadway shows such as "Les Misérables," "Wicked" and "Phantom of the Opera."
Bishop Newman served on the Archdiocesan Liturgical Commission established in 1962 to implement the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy approved by the Second Vatican Council.
As a member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, he served on committees for education, religious life and ministry, women in the church and society, and preparing for the third millennium. Bishop Newman also represented the bishops in Catholic-Jewish consultations under the committee on inter-religious and ecumenical affairs.
He served on the boards of many organizations, including Catholic Relief Services, Good Samaritan Hospital of Maryland, and Catholic Charities of Baltimore.
A funeral will be held 11 a.m. May 29 at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen.
In addition to his sister Doris Piasecki, Bishop Newman is survived by sister Evelyn Browne, of Stockton, Calif., and many nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by five sisters: Maryalma Newman, Catherine Franck, June Ruth, Rita Newman and Bernadette Uhl.