Redemptorist Father John Bauer, a son of Highlandtown whose eclectic ministry ranged from offering Mass in Spanish in the Caribbean to volunteering for chaplain duty with the U.S. Army in Vietnam to helping professional baseball players at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, died Dec. 20 at Stella Maris in Timonium.
Father Bauer had turned 92 Dec. 4.
“He touched thousands of lives in meaningful ways,” said Robert Hickey, who became friends with Father Bauer when he served as a chaplain at Aberdeen Proving Grounds.
A product of what is now Sacred Heart of Jesus/Sagrado Corazón de Jesús, Father Bauer received his first sacraments there, attended its parish school, offered his first Mass there in 1956 after his priestly ordination and resided there until moving to the Redemptorist retirement facility at Stella Maris.
“A Short History of a Redemptorist,” his life in pamphlet form, described a boy who grew up on Highland Street, was educated by the School Sisters of Notre Dame, attended minor seminary in North East and then major seminary at Mount St. Alphonsus in Espous, N.Y.
After serving a “second novitiate” at St. Mary’s Parish in Annapolis, Father Bauer was sent to Puerto Rico, where he ministered from February 1958 until June 1963. He traveled, he said, “by Jeep and horse” to nine chapels.
Father Bauer was then sent to the Dominican Republic, where he “baptized 165 in one day.” The country was in the midst of a civil war, and according to Father Bauer the American consulate asked him to recruit one of his faithful “to infiltrate the Communist group in town. He refused.”
After another stint in Puerto Rico, Father Bauer enlisted in the U.S. Army on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 1969. He served a Hispanic community at Fort Jackson, S.C., then received orders to report to Vietnam in June 1970.
“He used to joke, that the Army told him basic training is intense, a lot of guys can’t cut it,” Hickey said. “He joked, ‘I told them, if they can’t keep up with me. …’ “
Father Bauer was among the U.S. Army chaplains featured in a Maryland Public Television documentary in 2016. An article on CatholicReview.org described his service.
“He celebrated Mass and brought the sacraments to the 4th Division in the central highlands, and then the 196th Light Infantry,” the Review reported. “Father Bauer traveled by jeep and was helicoptered in to even hotter zones.”
Father Bauer told the Review he celebrated Easter Mass “in the jungle, on my haunches, with the guys sitting around me.”
“Father Bauer’s altar that day was an ammunition box,” the Review reported. “His Mass kit was lined with sponge to protect his chalice and paten; he removed the sponge and stuffed the kit with missalets and rosaries, ‘because the boys liked to wear them.’
“He does not romanticize war,” the Review reported. “One of his helicopter pilots was among the more than 58,000 American casualties of the Vietnam War. He served Mass at Fire support base Mary Ann, where ‘32 of our guys’ were killed in a March 1971 attack.”
He then served on bases in El Paso, Texas, and Yuma, Arizona. In 1976, he was deployed to Germany, where, he wrote, that “one of the greatest things” he had done was “stopping abortions in American federal hospitals in Augsburg.”
Father Bauer retired from the U.S. Army in 1993 with the rank of lieutenant colonel. His final military assignment was at Aberdeen Proving Grounds. His many military commendations included the Legion of Merit.
“Most priests live in community, but he had been an Army chaplain all those years,” Hickey said. He was my best friend. We were the go-to guy for one another. I laughed, I cried with this guy.”
Hickey described how Father Bauer offered a wedding Mass for Paul Marrone and Jennifer Risko, and how he then ministered to her as she died of leukemia.
“He was a vessel for the Holy Spirit,” Hickey said. “The things he got me to do.”
After Monsignor Martin Schwalenberg died in 2004, Father Bauer succeeded him as the Catholic chaplain to the Baltimore Orioles.
A feature in the Catholic Review described how Father Bauer grew up playing the game in Patterson Park, and continued to play in seminary. As chaplain to the Orioles, he celebrated Sunday Mass for the hometown team, the visitors, and front office and media staff.
“It’s good to have him here,” said Rafael Palmeiro, then the Orioles first baseman. “We always play on Sunday, so it makes it hard to get to Mass. It’s good to have Father here for us.”
Hickey, Father Bauer’s friend, said that he received “more than 200 Christmas cards” this year, including one from Nick Markakis, who played for the Orioles from 2006 to 2014.
Hickey described Father Bauer’s declining health, and how the priest rallied his spirit to celebrate a final Mass in public Dec. 7, four days after he turned 92.
“We usually have around 60 people for 4 p.m. Mass at Prince of Peace,” Hickey said. “There were more than 200 for that Mass. Around 130 stuck around for a birthday party in the hall. He has just joined the Ancient Order of Hibernians. They came out to honor him, as did the Knights of Coumbus.”
A viewing for Father Bauer will be held at the Lilly & Zeiler Funeral Home, 700 S. Conkling St., on Dec. 26, 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m., Dec. 27, 2-4 p.m. A Christian Wake Service will be held in Sacred Heart of Jesus Dec. 27, at 7:30 p.m. A funeral Mass will be offered at Sacred Heart of Jesus Dec. 28, 10 a.m.
In lieu of flowers, it asked that donations be made in Father Bauer’s name to the Redemptorists.
George Matysek Jr. contributed to this story.
Email Paul McMullen at pmcmullen@CatholicReview.org