Rev. Tomlin P. Crowder, 47, rector of St. Paul the Apostle

February 28, 1997|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

The Rev. Tomlin Peacock Crowder, an Episcopal priest who strove to bring stability to the troubled Pigtown neighborhood, died of esophageal cancer Sundayat the Johns Hopkins Hospital. He was 47 and lived in Wyman Park.

Father Crowder had been rector of Pigtown's St. Paul the Apostle Episcopal Church, which dates to the 19th century, since 1991.

Despite his illness, he helped celebrate the Mass at his daughter's confirmation a week before he died.

In the struggling working-class neighborhood of Pigtown, Father Crowder fought homelessness, unemployment and hunger. He welcomed chapters of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous to the church and made room for a Girl Scout troop.

"He took his work very seriously and he worked very hard. He was dedicated to using the church to better serve the community," the Rev. Edward Rementer said yesterday.

A retired priest and rector emeritus of Grace and St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Father Rementer assisted Father Crowder since the deceased was diagnosed with cancer a year ago.

Father Crowder's wife of 21 years, the former Grace Anne Greene, said his "calling was to work with the needy and being in an inner-city parish was where he wanted to be. But he wasn't a social worker with a collar on.

"We have around 200 members and it was a struggle to keep the church together in a neighborhood where half of the parishioners are homeowners" and government programs are lagging, Mrs. Crowder said.

"Tommy" Crowder was born and raised in Washington and graduated from the Sidwell Friends School in 1968. In 1972, he graduated from the Johns Hopkins University with a degree in political economics.

He kept close ties to Hopkins and was a familiar figure on the Homewood athletic field during the lacrosse season and at alumni gatherings.

While a graduate student at Hopkins, he decided to attend Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Va., where he earned a divinity degree in 1979. He was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1980.

At the time of his death, he was working on a doctorate in theology at the Catholic University.

Before coming to St. Paul, he was vicar at the Chapel of the Prince of Peace Episcopal Church in Fallston, Harford County, from 1981 to 1991. While there, he headed the Diocesan Mission Committee and was a chaplain at Hopkins Hospital and a Diocesan Missioner to the deaf. In the latter position, he offered Mass in sign language.

At Prince of Peace, he conducted the annual blessing of the animals on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, a 13th-century monk known for his love of animals.

At St. Paul the Apostle, he annually blessed the cats and dogs of Southwest Baltimore.

Friends and family said Father Crowder was an easygoing man who collected hats -- he was seldom without one -- and enjoyed hiking and reading Dickens, Sherlock Holmes mysteries and J.R.R. Tolkien's works.

His musical interests ranged from opera to medieval and renaissance music to Irish folk music.

He was an accomplished performer with a guitar, mandolin or lute and vocal music.

At the City Fair, he played with the Charles Village Ramblers band for many years.

Father Crowder incorporated his love of music into his church services and opened his Christmas midnight Masses with a lute solo and chanting.

"He was one of the most open-minded individuals I've ever known," said Baltimore poet, writer and professor Clarinda Harriss, who described his musical tastes as "eclectic but pure.

"The two things he was close-minded over were bad liturgy and bad music," Ms. Harriss said.

Mrs. Crowder said her husband was listening to Handel's "Messiah" at his death. "He died as the full moon was setting over the Hopkins Hospital dome and dawn was breaking," she said.

A requiem Mass will be offered at 2 p.m. March 17 at St. Paul the Apostle Church, 859 Washington Blvd.

Other survivors include a daughter, Catherine Anne Crowder; his mother, Mildred Esther Peacock of Washington; a sister, Janice Pulliam of Athens, Ga.; a nephew and a niece; and several uncles, aunts and cousins.

Pub Date: 2/27/97

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