Rev. William F. fitzGerald, 86, priest and educator

November 10, 2001|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

The Rev. William F. fitzGerald, who had been pastor of St. Dominic's Roman Catholic Church in Hamilton and later taught English at a parochial school in Calcutta, India, died Monday at Good Samaritan Hospital of a liver blockage. He was 86.

At his death, Father fitzGerald was in residence at St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church in Gardenville.

In a varied career spanning more than a half-century, Father fitzGerald, a colorful and popular figure, had been a parish priest, an educator and a musician.

He was a slender man with sharp features, snow-white hair and a voice retaining overtones of his Irish heritage. He dressed meticulously, and his clothes were custom-made in London.

"He was the same size from the day he was ordained until the day he died. When he needed new clothes, he'd call up his tailor and they would send over a few suits," said the Rev. Thomas J. Tewes, retired pastor of Our Lady of Hope Roman Catholic Church in eastern Baltimore County.

Father fitzGerald was born and raised in Cork, Ireland, and had planned to be a concert pianist before deciding on the priesthood. After earning degrees in theology and English literature from St. Patrick's College in Thurles, Ireland, he was ordained in 1944.

He began his career as a pastor to the Quardwe Indians in British Columbia, then went to England. In 1966, he arrived in Leads, S.D., to take over a parish whose pastor had gone on sabbatical for a year.

"He said when he got there it began snowing, and he `didn't see the ground until next June and that part of the country isn't for me,' so he came to Maryland," Father Tewes said.

After serving as chaplain and retreat master at the Christian Brothers Retreat House in Adamstown, Frederick County, he became associate pastor of St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church in Catonsville.

In 1973, he was assigned to St. Mary of the Assumption in Govans, where he was known for his Christmas harpsichord concerts and preference for the compositions of Bach and Mozart.

"He gave concerts to small groups in the parlor at St. Mary's, and at Christmas time played in the church. We lived on the second floor, and each year workmen had to come and disassemble the harpsichord and move it downstairs. It was a difficult and heavy job," Father Tewes said.

"I remember one of the workmen saying, `Hey, Father, did you ever think about taking up the harmonica?'" Father Tewes said, laughing.

In 1978, Father fitzGerald was appointed pastor of St. Dominic's, from which he resigned in 1985 to focus on a ministry of spiritual direction and teaching.

"He was from the Anglo-Irish aristocracy and was brilliant, erudite and well-read. He was also an excellent preacher," said the Rev. Michael J. Roach, pastor of St. Bartholomew's Roman Catholic Church in Manchester and former curate at St. Dominic's. "He was a brilliant spiritual director, and this all blended with a great compassion for the poor."

After leaving St. Dominic's, Father fitzGerald established a ministry in Calcutta at the Loretto Sisters Day School, where he taught English until 1996. That year, he moved his ministry to Cairo, Egypt, and taught needy students at a Coptic monastery.

When not in India or Egypt, he was a volunteer English teacher at the Hispanic Apostolate in Fells Point.

A Mass of Christian burial was offered yesterday at St. Dominic's for Father fitzGerald, who is survived by several cousins in Ireland.

Memorial donations may be made to the Hispanic Apostolate, 430 S. Broadway, Baltimore 21231.

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