D’Alesandro remembered for dignity to those ‘on the margins’

A photo of former Baltimore Mayor Thomas J. D’Alesandro III is seen on his funeral program. (CR Staff)

The Oct. 23 funeral Mass for Thomas J. D’Alesandro III included multiple reminders of his belief in the power of education and the Gospel of Matthew.

D’Alesandro, a champion of civil rights during his single term as mayor of Baltimore, died Oct. 20 at age 90.

His home church, St. Leo the Great in Little Italy, wasn’t large enough to accommodate those wanting to pay their respects, so the liturgy was held at St. Ignatius, a location in keeping with D’Alesandro’s affinity for Jesuits and their ideals.

Jesuit Father William Watters presided. D’Alesandro’s education included what were then Loyola High School and Loyola College, and Father Watters related his role in the creation of St. Ignatius Loyola Academy, a free middle school for boys from families of limited means.

“In 1992, I called you for advice about opening a new school,” Father Watters said, turning to the casket holding D’Alesandro. “You offered me insight, and agreed to be a founding member of our Board of Trustees. It is truly a signature school, thanks to you.”

Deacon Andrew Lacovara proclaimed the Gospel, Mt 25:31-46, which references the “least of these.”

Jesuit Father William Watters offers the opening prayer over the casket holding Thomas J. D’Alesandro III at St. Ignatius in Baltimore Oct. 23. Also pictured, from left, are Jesuit Father James Casciotti, Deacon Andrew Lacovara and Pallottine Father Bernard Carman. (Paul McMullen/CR Staff)

“The teachings of Jesus set your foundation,” Father Watters said. “As you especially championed African-Americans in this city, (the Gospel) resonated in your heart. … You modeled respect for all people, and dignity for those on the margins.”

His family is one of historic significance, as the predecessors of “Young Tommy” as mayor of Baltimore included his father, Thomas D’Alesandro III. His sister, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), was the first woman to serve in that capacity.

Mourners included both of Maryland’s U.S. Senators, Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen; former Sen. Barbara Mikulski; several Congressmen; Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young, and several of his immediate predecessors.

D’Alesandro was city council president in 1966, when he introduced a fair housing bill. Supporters of the measure included Cardinal Lawrence Shehan, then archbishop of Baltimore, who was openly jeered during a hearing at the War Memorial Building.

In the Jan. 28, 1966 issue of the Catholic Review, D’Alesandro blamed the legislation’s failure on apathetic clergy.

“There must be more work between the pulpit and the congregation,” D’Alesandro was quoted. “A big vacuum exists now and the big religious parishes in the white neighborhoods are often the hotbeds of anti-open occupancy agitation.”

Four months after D’Alesandro was inaugurated as mayor in 1967, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Deadly rioting followed. He appointed blacks to positions of leadership, made school construction a priority and advanced some major downtown projects, but chose not to seek re-election in 1971 and returned to practicing law.

Watch footage of then-Councilman D’Alesandro speaking in support of open housing in the video that follows. His comments begin at 1:46. Story continues below.

“His own parents thought he was crazy,” said his son, Thomas IV (Loyola Blakefield, ’72). His eulogy humorously referenced the aftermath of a Little League game, when his father shared his baseball skills with his son, who observed, “It’s really a shame grandpa threw his life away.”

He noted his father’s passion for providing educational opportunity.

“He taught us that a good education should be a stepping stone, regardless of color, class or creed,” D’Alesandro said. “All children deserve that chance. That’s why he spent four decades raising money for schools.”

Archbishop William E. Lori incenses the casket holding Thomas J. D’Alesandro III during the closing rite of his Oct. 23 funeral Mass at St. Ignatius in Baltimore. Also pictured, from left, are Jesuit Father James Casciotti, Deacon Andrew Lacovara, Jesuit Father William Watters and Pallottine Father Bernard Carman. (Paul McMullen/CR Staff)

In lieu of flowers, the family asked that donations be made to either the Loyola Early Learning Center, a recent addition to St. Ignatius Church, or the Institute of Notre Dame.

In her eulogy, Pelosi remembered her brother’s 1952 wedding to Margaret Piracci at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, where onlookers clogged surrounding streets.

“He loved the Jesuits,” Pelosi said, noting that her parents “celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary downstairs in the (St. Ignatius) chapel. He was a man for others.”

Pallottine Father Bernard Carman, pastor of St. Leo the Great, was a concelebrant. Jesuit Father James Casciotti, pastor of St. Ignatius, served as acolyte.

The closing rite was led by Archbishop William E. Lori, who arrived, appropriately enough, after the groundbreaking for the first new Catholic school in Baltimore in nearly 60 years.

“I had the thought,” the archbishop said, “that all of us stand on Tommy’s shoulders. … He was someone who loved those in need.”

The recessional was “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

Email Paul McMullen at pmcmullen@CatholicReview.org

Paul McMullen

Paul McMullen

Paul McMullen has served as the managing editor of the Catholic Review since 2008.

The author of two books, Paul has been involved in local media since age 12, when he began delivering The News American to 80 homes in his neighborhood. He began his journalism career with the Capital-Gazette Newspapers in Anne Arundel County, and spent more than 25 years as a sports writer for The Sun in Baltimore. His favorite writing assignments have included the Summer Olympics in Australia and Greece, the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and “Feet for Francis,” a 2015 walking pilgrimage from the Baltimore Basilica to Philadelphia to see Pope Francis.