Rev. Ronald P. Pytel, 56, pastor whose case was deemed a miracle

November 06, 2003|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

The Rev. Ronald P. Pytel, the pastor of Holy Rosary Roman Catholic Church in Southeast Baltimore whose recovery from a life-threatening heart condition was declared a miracle by Vatican authorities four years ago, died of kidney cancer Monday at a home he restored in Middle Way, W.Va. He was 56.

Father Pytel received a diagnosis of a degenerative aortic valve and congestive heart failure in the mid-1990s. Operated on at Johns Hopkins Hospital, he recovered, all the while praying to Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun who had been recently beatified. His case, determined by the Holy See to be a miracle, was used to further the cause of the nun's subsequent canonization as a saint.

Born in Baltimore of Polish ancestry and raised near Patterson Park, he attended Holy Rosary Parochial School and graduated from the old St. Charles College Seminary. He earned a theological degree from St. Mary's Seminary and studied at the North American College in Rome before his ordination as a priest in 1973.

He served at St. Rita Church in Dundalk and at St. Clement in Rosedale before being named liturgy director for the Archdiocese of Baltimore. In 1980, he was assigned to St. Elizabeth of Hungary in Patterson Park and in 1991 was named pastor of Holy Rosary -- his childhood home parish.

In November 1994, Father Pytel developed a cold that would not go away. Other symptoms soon followed. His Hopkins physician, Dr. Nicholas Fortuin, said he was in "real danger of sudden death" because of an obstructed aortic valve.

"His full recovery after valve-replacement surgery surprised not only his Johns Hopkins doctor, but also set in motion an inquiry by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, the magnitude of which has not been seen in recent memory," The Sun reported in 1996. "At the heart of the archdiocese's investigation is the question now sending ripples of excitement through the Baltimore Catholic community: Are the faithful of Holy Rosary ... witness to a miracle?"

That year, Father Pytel took his medical documentation to Rome, where he met with Pope John Paul II to discuss the Blessed Faustina's canonization. They conversed in the pope's native language of Polish.

Family members said that Father Pytel transformed the aging Holy Rosary parish in his years there. Among other innovations, he established devotion of prayers to the Divine Mercies, associated with St. Faustina.

"He went from altar boy to pastor," said his brother, Michael E. Pytel of Bel Air. "From the sixth grade on, he always wanted to be a priest. He was articulate, caring, attentive to his people's needs. He had good management skills and leadership abilities. He could speak Polish, Italian and German and he could communicate with the ethnic groups here. He respected their traditions, which the older people liked."

His work in the parish was also praised by fellow pastors.

"As young as he was, he was one of the last of the giants of the old, unreconstructed East Baltimore church. He had a real place in the history of Polish Catholicism in Baltimore," said the Rev. Michael Roach, pastor of St. Bartholomew Roman Catholic Church in Manchester. "He was a substantial pastor of a parish where he led a real revitalization. He took a church that was becoming stagnant and made it flourish again. He deeply understood the virtue of devotional Catholicism."

Father Pytel was also recalled for his singing. At Christmas Eve's midnight Mass, he regularly sang "Silent Night" in English, Italian and Polish.

"He was musical and grew up loving to play the accordion. It was nothing for him to go up at a church social affair to take the microphone," his brother said.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Holy Rosary, 408 S. Chester St.

Father Pytel also is survived by a niece, Jessica Pytel of White Marsh.

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