The Rev. Francis Oberlin Chapelle, retired associate rector of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer and U.S. Army colonel, died of Alzheimer's disease Sunday at Union Memorial Hospital. He was 83 and lived in the Lakehurst section of North Baltimore.
Known as Chappie, he became a popular figure at his Charles Street church, where he arrived in 1969 after 31 years in the Army. Parishioners soon found that his feelings against the then-raging Vietnam War were not those of the Pentagon.
"His views about Vietnam came out in his sermons," recalled Mary Bready, a church member. "There were a few people who thought the Army had paid his way he and ought not to be back-biting."
A liberal regarding church custom, he urged inclusion of young women as acolytes and the hiring of female priests when both practices were deemed controversial.
"He was a complex person with an abundance of energy -- he became a marathon runner in his 50s. He had very intense interests throughout his life," said his daughter, Sarah Chapelle Wiener of Ann Arbor, Mich.
Born in Harrisville, Mich., he grew up on a farm that his family lost in the Depression.
He was valedictorian of his 1933 class at Harrisville High School, attended a teachers college, and taught in a one-room school house in Michigan's Saginaw County.
He enlisted in the Army in 1938, and served initially in the 4th Cavalry. After assignments in the Midwest during the war years, he was admitted to officers' candidate school and commissioned in the Medical Service Corps. He spent the remainder of his career running military hospitals in Nanking and Shanghai, China, the Panama Canal Zone, West Point and Germany.
He also earned a bachelor's degree in 1963 through the University of Maryland and a master's in hospital administration from Baylor University.
During his final posting, at Fort Belvoir, Va., as executive officer of the DeWitt Army Hospital, he decided to enter the Episcopal priesthood. He commuted to Baltimore for courses offered by the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.
Mr. Chapelle retired from the Army in 1965 and arrived at the Church of the Redeemer four years later.
He was often seen riding the grounds of the Homeland church on a lawn tractor -- while dressed in black clerical garb. He also served as chaplain of the parish school and saw to it that students got to ring the steeple bell on their birthdays.
An avid birder, runner and bike rider, he was a volunteer at Irvine Natural Science Center and led children on trail walks.
His 1944 marriage to Mary Hughes ended in divorce.
He was married in 1984 to the former Suzanne Ellery Greene, a Morgan State University history professor, who survives him along with his daughter and two sons, Peter Chapelle of Middleburg, Va., and Frank Chapelle of Little Mountain, S.C.; a stepdaughter, Jennifer Ellery Greene of Baltimore; and 14 grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Church of the Redeemer, 5603 N. Charles St.