Pope Benedict XVI has recognized the exemplary ministry of three priests of the Archdiocese of Baltimore by conferring on them the honorary title of monsignor.
Cardinal William H. Keeler made the surprise announcement during a March 22 dinner at his Charles Street residence with the new monsignors –
Monsignor James P. Farmer, pastor of St. Ursula in Parkville; Monsignor Martin E. Feild, pastor of St. Joseph in Taneytown; and Monsignor Richard H. Tillman, pastor of St. John the Evangelist in Columbia.
Monsignor Farmer and Monsignor Feild were named “chaplains to His Holiness,” the first grade of monsignors, and Monsignor Tillman was named “prelate of honor,” the second grade of monsignors.
“The naming of a new prelate of honor and of new chaplains to His Holiness brings to the Archdiocese of Baltimore an additional reason for pride,” said Cardinal Keeler. “The Holy Father has recognized three of our priests by so singling them out.”
The cardinal added that he was “enormously grateful to all of our priests who themselves are worthy of similar recognition.”
The title “monsignor” literally means “my lord,” stretching back to the time when bishops were the equivalent of barons, according to Monsignor Steven Rohlfs, rector of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg. Monsignors were part of the “higher clergy” and were addressed in the same way a regular nobleman would have been addressed, he said.
Today, the title is a sign of personal esteem from the pope and it’s conferred at the request of the bishop, according to Monsignor Rohlfs. Normally no more than 10 percent of the clergy in a diocese can have the title, he said.
The date for the investiture ceremony recognizing the new monsignors has not been set.
Monsignor James Farmer
“Surprised” and “humbled” by his selection as a new monsignor, Monsignor Farmer said his parishioners were “very happy” for him when they heard the news of his new title at morning Mass.
“It’s a very exciting time,” he said. “It was something I never expected.”
Monsignor Farmer has been pastor of St. Ursula in Parkville for less than a year. He was the pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas in Hampden from 1992-2006 and previously served at Immaculate Conception in Towson from 1980-86 and St. Clement Mary Hofbauer in Rosedale from 1987-92.
A former criminal trial lawyer before entering Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Monsignor Farmer was ordained in 1979. The 60-year-old priest grew up in St. Clement Mary Hofbauer parish in Rosedale.
In addition to his parish ministries, Monsignor Farmer has been a leader in the Maryland prolife community, serving in leadership roles in the archdiocesan prolife committee.
“The priesthood is a great life,” he said. “We connect people to Jesus and Jesus to people. All priests work hard to do good.”
Monsignor Martin Feild
Monsignor Feild called it a “thrill and an honor” to be recognized by Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Keeler as monsignor.
“I was very pleased and very surprised,” said Monsignor Feild, who jokingly said he thought he was “in trouble” when the cardinal invited him to dinner at his residence without telling him the reason for the invitation.
“It’s not just for me, it’s for my parish and my family,” he said. “Everyone is just thrilled.”
Pastor of St. Joseph in Taneytown since 1995, Monsignor Feild was the pastor of St. Peter in Oakland from 1975-1994. He previously served as an associate pastor of St. Joseph, Cockeysville from 1959-1969 and St. Clement I in Lansdowne from 1969-1975.
The eighth of 11 brothers and sisters, Monsignor Feild grew up in St. Mark parish in Catonsville. He attended St. Charles minor seminary in Catonsville, St. Mary Seminary on Paca Street in Baltimore and St. Mary Seminary in Roland Park. He was ordained in 1959.
The 74-year-old priest said his ministry has focused on serving people in his parishes, but he has also been involved in ecumenical activities.
Monsignor Richard Tillman
Monsignor Tillman said he was in a state of “joyful confusion” after receiving word from the cardinal that he had been named a monsignor.
“I said there needs to be a recount,” the priest said with a laugh.
“I was really overwhelmed by it,” he said. “The cardinal was very gracious and very generous.”
Pastor of St. John the Evangelist in Columbia for 30 years, Monsignor Tillman previously served at St. Philip Neri in Linthicum from 1965-68; St. Mary, Star of the Sea in Baltimore from 1968-72 and Holy Cross in Baltimore from 1972-77.
The priest has been very active in ecumenical and interfaith efforts, promoting better understanding between Christians and those of other religions.
“Being caught up in the life of a vibrant body of Christ is an exciting and full-time adventure,” he said.
The oldest of five brothers, Monsignor Tillman grew up in Immaculate Conception parish in Towson and was ordained in 1965 after studying at St. Mary’s Seminary on Paca Street in Baltimore.
Meghan Walton contributed to this article.