Deacon Phillip Harcum Jr., whose service to St. Bernardine Church in West Baltimore was so deep that its parish hall came to bear his name, died Oct. 26 at age 93.
A funeral Mass will be offered at the church Nov. 2, at 10:30 a.m. After burial at Mount Auburn Cemetery, friends and family will return to the aforementioned Harcum Hall to continue the celebration of his life.
Deacon Harcum was among the first black men ordained to the permanent diaconate for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, in 1973, two years after its inaugural class had included Deacon Americus Roy.
Deacon Harcum received that sacrament from Bishop Joseph Gossman at St. Gregory the Great, where, according to his funeral program, he had been among the founders of the Men’s Club and its first president.
At the time of his ordination, Deacon Harcum was a parishioner of St. Bernardine. His ministered alongside the late Monsignor Edward M. Miller, who served as its pastor from 1980 until his death in 2013.
“They were the dynamic duo,” said Monsignor Richard J. Bozzelli, who succeeded Monsignor Miller as pastor. “I came here in 1991 (for his pastoral year in seminary); that’s when I first got to know Deacon Phil. He was a true servant spirit, omnipresent to the people here. He was always available to help and listen. If someone needed a ride to the doctors or the grocery store, Deacon Phil would swing by their house and pick them up. His work was service ministry.
“For me, he was the definition of the diaconate. He was not just the guy who stands next to the priest at Mass. He really serves. I was so impressed and moved by that model, I knew I wanted Deacon Phil to vest me.”
When Monsignor Bozzelli was ordained a transitional deacon in 1993 at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland, he was indeed vested by Deacon Harcum. He assisted Monsignor Bozzelli when he celebrated his first Mass, at St. Francis of Assisi in Mayfield, in 1994.
Deacon Harcum’s service to St. Bernardine included founding its “Tape Ministry,” which consisted of sharing audio recordings of Mass and other liturgies with shut-ins, first on cassette tapes, then on CDs. He organized St. Bernardine’s food bank and pantry, served on its parish council and maintained its gardens and lawn.
Deacon Harcum was an inspiration to others in ministry. Deacon Wardell P. Barksdale, stationed at St. Bernardine, became a deacon after watching the example of Deacon Harcum and wanting to follow in his footsteps.
Raised in Sandtown, Deacon Harcum was 9 when he was baptized at St. Peter Claver. In 1942, he graduated from its high school. In 1945 he enlisted in the U.S. Army, and served as a quartermaster. In 1950, he began a 30-year stint as an employee of Bethlehem Steel in Sparrows Point.
Deacon Harcum, who never married, retired from active ministry in 2001. He had resided at St. Bernardine, and was cared for by the Little Sisters of the Poor at St. Martin’s Home for the Aged, and since 2013 by his youngest great-niece and her family.
Email Paul McMullen at pmcmullen@CatholicReview.org