WASHINGTON — Cardinal William H. Keeler, Baltimore's 14th archbishop, an international leader in Catholic-Jewish relations and the driving force behind the restoration of America's first cathedral, died March 23 at his residence at St. Martin's Home for the Aged in Catonsville. He was 86.
The funeral Mass for Cardinal Keeler was celebrated March 28 at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore.
Cardinal Keeler was the bishop of Harrisburg, Penn., when he was appointed the 14th archbishop of Baltimore in 1989. Pope John Paul II made him a cardinal in 1994. He retired in 2007. As president of the U.S. bishops' conference from 1992 to 1995, he participated in a wide range of national and international issues.
As part of his work with what is now the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Keeler developed a reputation for effectively building interfaith bonds. He is particularly noted for his work in furthering Catholic-Jewish dialogue. He was appointed moderator of Catholic-Jewish Relations for the USCCB.
Cardinal Keeler's death leaves the College of Cardinals with 223 members, 17 of whom are from the United States. The College of Cardinals has 117 members under the age of 80 and eligible to vote in a conclave.
Cardinal Keeler was an ardent promoter of the Catholic Church's teaching on the sanctity of all human life. He twice served as chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee for Pro-Life Activities and testified at all levels of government on legislation ranging from abortion to euthanasia to capital punishment.
Among the cardinal's many accomplishments in the Baltimore Archdiocese, Archbishop William E. Lori highlighted "the wonderful visit of Pope St. John Paul II to Baltimore in 1995, the restoration of the Basilica of the Assumption and the creation of Partners in Excellence which has helped thousands of young people from disadvantaged neighborhoods to receive a sound Catholic education."
Born in San Antonio and raised in Lebanon, Penn., William Henry Keeler knew from an early age he was called to the priesthood. In a 2005 interview with the Catholic Review, Baltimore's archdiocesan newspaper, he recalled visiting his grandfather's farm in Illinois when the local Catholic pastor stopped by for a visit — pointing to the 4-year-old boy and announcing that he would one day become a priest.
He was ordained a priest in Rome July 17, 1955. He served as assistant pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel in Marysville, Penn., before taking on other assignments as secretary to Harrisburg Bishop George L. Leech and as a special adviser, at Second Vatican Council meetings in Rome.
He later was named vice chancellor and vicar general of the Harrisburg Diocese and named an auxiliary bishop for the diocese in 1979. Four years later he was appointed its bishop.