Monsignor Damien G. Nalepa, longtime pastor of St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church in West Baltimore, was found dead inside the parish rectory Saturday, August 4. Police were called when Msgr. Nalepa failed to appear for evening Mass and found his body slumped over in a chair in his bedroom. Though the cause of death is unknown at this time, there was no evidence of foul play.
Monsignor Nalepa, known by most as “Father Damien”, first came to St. Gregory’s in October of 1978, serving as pastor of the N. Gilmor Street parish from 1981 until the time of his death.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated on Saturday, August 11 at 11 a.m. at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Baltimore. The body will lie in repose from 9-11 a.m. Archbishop William E. Lori will celebrate the Mass. Additional public viewings are scheduled for Thursday, August 9 from 4-8 p.m. at the March Funeral Home on Wabash Avenue and Friday, August 10 from 2-8 p.m. at St. Gregory the Great. A wake service will occur Friday from 6-8 p.m. at St. Gregory’s.
Born on April 21, 1942, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Msgr. Nalepa was one of four children born to Edward Nalepa and the former Mary Miscik. He was ordained to the priesthood for the Province of St. Augustine’s Capuchin Order in 1970 and was incardinated into the Archdiocese of Baltimore on October 16, 1981 by Archbishop William D. Borders.
Throughout his priestly ministry, Monsignor Nalepa was active in improving the community surrounding the parishes where he served, most especially St. Gregory’s. He routinely conducted anti-violence vigils and even confronted suspected drug dealers on street corners. He initiated a gun buy-back program at the parish and organized food basket donations each Christmas. He served as chaplain for the Baltimore City Jail and continued ministering to men he met while they were imprisoned by helping them get reestablished when they were released. He frequently worked to help them get jobs and to encourage them to reestablish contact with their families. He served as a board member of the Welfare Rights Organization and the St. James Community Services Ventures. He was Chairperson of the Fulton House Work Release CIB Program and served on the Urban Commission.
“Monsignor Nalepa’s death is a great shock and a tremendous loss not only for our local Church but also for the City of Baltimore, which he served so faithfully and so selflessly,” Archbishop Lori said. “In his more than 40 years of service in Baltimore, Monsignor Nalepa improved the lives of countless individuals and did so with great humility, faithfulness and love. His Christ-like witness is an example for all priests, young and old, and should be a continuous reminder to all of us blessed to pray alongside the people we are called to serve.”
While attending to his pastoral duties, Msgr. Nalepa received a Master’s Degree in Urban Planning from Morgan State University in 1974. He also pursued studies in Criminal Justice over the years. He was appointed a Prelate of Honor to His Holiness in May of 2006 by Pope John Paul II.
Msgr. Nalepa served at two other Baltimore City parishes prior to his arrival at St. Gregory: St. Martin (1971-78) and St. Ann (1978).
Monsignor Nalepa is survived by his sister Nancy Herring and brothers Kenneth Nalepa and Father Richard Nalepa, CP.