Rev. Daniel Hugh Cassidy, 88, active in Josephite community

April 14, 2003|By Doug Donovan | Doug Donovan,SUN STAFF

The Rev. Daniel Hugh Cassidy, a retired Irish Roman Catholic priest well known in East Baltimore, died Tuesday of heart and kidney failure at St. Joseph Medical Center. He was 88.

Father Cassidy, who divided his 50 years of active ministry almost exclusively between Maryland and Louisiana, had resided since 1993 at St. Joseph Manor, a Baltimore retirement home for Josephite priests and brothers.

Father Cassidy was born in Donegal, Ireland. His parents moved with him and his seven siblings to Boston when he was 7. By 1936, he had decided to become a priest and entered Mary Immaculate Novitiate in Newburgh, N.Y.

A year later, he was accepted at the St. Joseph Seminary in Washington, D.C., where for six years he studied philosophy, theology and the Josephite mission of serving African-American Catholics.

The Josephite community was started in England in 1866 to send missionaries to the United States to minister to African-Americans freed from slavery, especially the high concentrations of black Catholics in Maryland and Louisiana. The first four Josephite priests arrived in 1871 and established headquarters in Baltimore at St. Francis Xavier Church.

Steeped in the Josephite tradition, Father Cassidy was ordained as a priest May 29, 1943, and was immediately assigned to work at St. Francis Xavier's new East Baltimore location at Caroline and Eager streets.

It was here the 29-year-old priest with the slight brogue made his first impression on the black community. Father Cassidy often walked along Caroline Street extending his help to anyone who needed it.

From 1943 through 1951, Father Cassidy ministered to the community and pushed for integrating Catholic schools. He helped start the first Catholic Students Interracial Council in 1945, and he integrated the Catholic Students Mission Crusade.

During his eight years in the parish, 890 people converted to Catholicism at St. Francis Xavier. Two of those converts were Clarence Du Burns, who in 1987 became Baltimore's first black mayor, and Americus Roy, who in 1971 became the nation's first African-American permanent Catholic deacon.

"He was a dynamo," Mr. Roy of Baltimore's St. Pius V Church said of Father Cassidy. "Even when he left for years, he could come back and never forget a name."

Mr. Roy said Father Cassidy encouraged young men to play sports in a church hall at Eden and Ashland streets, casually explaining the Catholic faith afterward. When the games were over, the children piled into his car, and Father Cassidy drove each one home.

Aside from his community work, Father Cassidy was also well known for his skills at the piano and the organ -- and, most notably, in the kitchen.

The Rev. Robert Kearns of Baltimore, superior general of the Josephite community, said priests came from all over the Baltimore region to enjoy Father Cassidy's cooking on Sunday nights.

"He would bake a great ham that he would never serve without slices of pineapple," Father Kearns said.

Father Cassidy's influence extended into Baltimore County. Although he left in 1951 for Louisiana, his work in the county's Turners Station neighborhood led to the establishment in 1956 of the Christ the King parish.

He returned to Baltimore in 1963 and served as the pastor of St. Veronica Church in Cherry Hill for nearly six years. He was again assigned to Louisiana in 1968, but 14 years later, at his request, he returned to St. Francis Xavier.

In 1984, he turned 70 and decided to move to Donegal. But he could not stay away from Baltimore, returning to the city on several occasions.

In 1993, a heart attack forced him to retire, and he did so at St. Joseph Manor, where he remained until his death.

Services were held Saturday at St. Francis Xavier.

Father Cassidy is survived by two sisters, Ita Downer of Yonkers, N.Y., and Eileen Cassidy of Framingham, Mass.

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