Worshippers Gather at the Basilica to Pay Respects to Cardinal William H. Keeler

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Worshippers from around the region gathered in Baltimore today to pay tribute to Cardinal William H. Keeler, who died last week at the age of 86.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore scheduled a viewing ceremony from 1-7 p.m. at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the cathedral he helped restore.

Keeler served as the Archbishop of Baltimore from 1989 to 2007, a period in which he brought Pope John Paul II to the city in 1995, helped lead the restoration of the basilica, America’s first cathedral, and participated in the Conclave that appointed Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. He died March 23 at St. Martin’s Home for the Aged in Catonsville, where he was living.

About 200 people came to the cathedral today for a mass before the viewing ceremony began, including Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh and Police Commissioner Kevin Davis.

At the end of the service, at around 1:15 p.m., priests organized two lines down the center of the cathedral and worshippers filed past Keeler’s open casket, which sat in the main aisle. Some lingered to sign a guest book. Others talked quietly or took photos. More people came throughout the afternoon. A vespers service was scheduled for 7 p.m.

On Tuesday, the Archdiocese has scheduled a public viewing at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen on N. Charles Street from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. It will be followed by a Mass of Christian Burial at the cathedral at 2 p.m. At 4:30 p.m., Keeler will be buried in the crypt beneath the Basilica, in a space he selected for himself more than a year ago.

After today’s mass, worshippers said they had a variety of reasons for coming to the viewing.

Joanne Cahoon said she worked for Keeler from 1991 to 2004, as a lay coordinator in his youth and young adult ministry. She said she went on World Youth Day trips with Keeler and young people from Baltimore to Paris, Rome and Denver, among other cities.

Cahoon said she has especially fond memories of the Denver trip, for which Keeler chartered a plane and transported 350 young people from Baltimore. She said they gave him a bandana, which he wore for much of the trip.

“In the evenings, we would have gatherings for prayer,” she recalled. “He liked to take pictures of ‘his’ kids, because he was so excited about them. They loved him. They cheered for him. They felt he was part of their family.”

Elvert Barnes, 63, said he is a photographer who never met Keeler. He said he only recently moved to Baltimore and now lives two blocks from the Basilica.

“I’m Catholic. I moved from D.C. in August. I wanted to pay my respects,” he said.

Marie Harvin, a 74-year-old Gwynn Oak resident and member of St. Gregory the Great Church, came with her friend Helen Shaw. Harvin said she met Keeler several times and once went on a pilgrimage with him to local houses of worship representing various faiths.

“He was just such a sweet and gentle person,” she said. “When he came to the Little Sisters of the Poor at St. Martin’s, he would stop and talk to us and he would pray with us…I loved his smile.”

Ken McDermott said he attended because he had great respect for Keeler.

“I’ve been following Father since he came to Baltimore,” McDermott said. “I’m a member of St. Charles Borromeo in Pikesville. This is part of my obligation. I believe when he came here, [the church] was in disarray, and he brought it back. Especially this basilica.”

McDermott said he was grateful to have known Keeler. “A bishop or a cardinal or a pope is better to meet than the president,” he said. “They give something to you.”

Ed Gunts

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