Celebrating a diverse church

Cardinal William H. Keeler reached out to African American Catholics, Hispanics and young people in active ways.

Cardinal William H. Keeler helps carry the pilgrimage cross to the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, Homeland, for the 12th annual Youth and Young Adult Pilgrimage in 2005. (CR file)

Therese Wilson Favors, former archdiocesan director of the Office of African American Catholic Ministries, noted that the cardinal established the office as the primary focus of evangelization and leadership development within the African American community. He supported other outreach efforts such as Operation Faith Lift, an evangelization effort in black parishes; and Harambee, a youth program.

Cardinal Keeler established the Office of Hispanic Ministry within the archbishop’s administrative department and made efforts to bring more Spanish-speaking priests to the archdiocese. He was a strong supporter of legislation such as the DREAM Act, and he invited prominent bishops from Spanish-speaking countries to serve as homilists at the annual archdiocesan Mass celebrating Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Maria Johnson, former director of the Office of Hispanic Ministry, said the cardinal had a special interest in the Hispanic community because in his youth, the cardinal befriended a Mexican seminarian. When the two traveled, Cardinal Keeler witnessed discrimination against his friend.

“With various issues – especially immigration – he always wanted to take part in some way with public action,” Johnson said.

Through Cardinal Keeler’s leadership, the Archdiocese of Baltimore established a sister diocese relationship with the Diocese of Gonaives, Haiti, in 1997. With assistance from the Mortel Family Charitable Foundation, The Good Samaritans School was built in Haiti. A trade school and a literacy school were also established. Many parishes within the archdiocese have partnerships with Haitian faith communities, assisting with feeding programs, education and evangelization.

“He’s always wanted to help the people of Haiti as much as possible,” said Deacon Rodrigue Mortel, missions director for the Baltimore archdiocese. “He really facilitated us in getting the funds for the Good Samaritans School.”

Mark Pacione, former director of the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry who died in 2014, told the Catholic Review in an earlier interview that Cardinal Keeler understood young people represented the future of the church. The cardinal served as chairman of the eighth World Youth Day, held in Denver in 1993. In Baltimore, he started and participated in the youth and young adult pilgrimage, an annual event held the Saturday before Palm Sunday to give young people a chance to listen to faith testimonies and carry a large cross through the street of the city.

The cardinal earned the respect of young people, Pacione said.

“He was their archbishop,” Pacione said. “He was their leader.”

This is an excerpt from the Catholic Review obituary on Cardinal Keeler by George P. Matysek Jr.  For the complete article, click here