It is my pleasure to be with you today as we celebrate the 60th anniversary of Cardinal Keeler’s ordination to the priesthood.
In a special way I would like to thank the Little Sisters of the Poor, who so lovingly and faithfully care for our beloved Cardinal, and the members of the Cardinal’s family who have traveled to be with us this morning, including his sister Julia, who lives in Canada, and his cousins, Dr. and Mrs. Louis Keeler and Mrs. Julie Mick-i-letti.
And I would be remiss if I failed to mention Mal and Jan Pavik, who remain so devoted to the Cardinal and at whose initiative we come together this day to mark this important moment in the life of His Eminence.
It was on July 17, 1955 in the Church of the Holy Apostles in Rome, that William H. Keeler of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, was ordained a Priest of Jesus Christ.
As a young priest, the young Father Keeler served at a local parish, doing all the things a new parish priest does—including, on occasion, driving the parish school bus.
Not surprisingly, it did not take long for the future Cardinal to catch the eye of his bishop, George Leech, who tapped the young priest to accompany him to Rome for the Second Vatican Council where he would be appointed one of more than 400 periti who sat in on the council deliberations and provided analysis and interpretations to the assembled English-speaking media.
In 1979, Father Keeler became Bishop Keeler as he was ordained an auxiliary bishop for his home diocese of Harrisburg, where he would be named Ordinary just five years later.
In 1989, he succeeded Archbishop Borders in becoming the 14th Archbishop of Baltimore.
In this new role, the Archbishop became a leader, nationally and internationally, especially in the area of ecumenical and interfaith relations.
Though he was involved in ecumenical dialogue from his earliest days as a priest in Lebanon, he proved himself a true visionary in this area while serving the Church as a bishop and archbishop.
He was appointed Moderator of Catholic-Jewish Relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a member of the International Catholic Orthodox Commission for Theological Dialogue and Chair of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.
In this latter role he was instrumental in arranging Pope John Paul II’s historic 1987 meetings with Jewish leaders in Miami and with Protestant leaders in Columbia, South Carolina. He was also appointed by the Vatican to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and to the Congregation for Oriental Churches.
He is arguably the most influential and respected Catholic statesman in the United States in this important area and can envision no time when the fruits of his work will not be present.
He was a “rising star” if you will—serving as president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1992 after a 3-year term as Vice President and, of course, was named to the College of Cardinals in 1994 by Pope John Paul II.
Just one year later, the Holy Father visited the Archdiocese of Baltimore, which will forever be seen as token of the Holy Father’s esteem and respect for our beloved Cardinal and an endless gift to the Catholic faithful of this historic Archdiocese.
The Cardinal’s leadership was nothing if not visionary: he led major fundraising campaigns for schools, parishes, and charitable outreach—raising hundreds of millions of dollars—and created the Partners in Excellence Scholarship Program that joined public and private forces to raise money for poor inner city students of our Catholic schools.
And he met the daunting task of saving our Basilica with characteristic vigor and determination, raising the funds to restore it to its original design and reintroducing “America’s First Cathedral” to Catholics and pilgrims here at home and beyond.
We would be here all day if I were to continue to list the Cardinal’s countless contributions to our Church.
I’m so happy we have this opportunity to show our love and support for him and pray we will continue to be blessed by his loving and faith-filled presence for many years to come.