Rev. John Barbernitz, 78, military chaplain

November 18, 2003|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

The Rev. John Peter Barbernitz, a retired Roman Catholic military chaplain who was also pastor of two city churches, died of kidney failure Friday at St. Martin's Home in Catonsville, where he had lived for the past three years. He was 78.

Born in Baltimore and raised in Rosedale, he was a 1944 graduate of the old St. Charles College, a Catonsville seminary high school. He earned a degree in theology at St. Mary's Seminary in Roland Park in 1950, the year he was ordained at the Basilica of the Assumption.

Father Barbernitz was a curate at Ascension Church in Halethorpe until 1956, when he was assigned to St. Mark Church in Catonsville.

"He was marvelously independent. He was a brilliant man who upheld the traditions of the church very strongly," said the Rev. Michael Roach, a friend and pastor of St. Bartholomew Church in Manchester. "As a young priest he rode a motorcycle, which was unusual in the pre-Vatican II days."

In 1959, Father Barbernitz became an Army chaplain and later had a tour in Vietnam, where he earned a Legion of Merit Award. He retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1984.

While in military service, he dug the foundation and built most of the Knights of Columbus hall at Fort Rucker, Ala. The building was later named in his honor.

After a temporary assignment at the Basilica of the Assumption, Father Barbernitz studied at the Institute for Continuing Theological Education at the North American College in Rome.

In 1988, he was named pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel on Fort Avenue in Locust Point, and in 1992 became pastor of the downtown St. Alphonsus Church at Park Avenue and Saratoga Street. He was also a board member of Mount de Sales Academy in Catonsville.

He retired from the Archdiocese of Baltimore in 1995, but Father Barbernitz volunteered in the Archdiocese of Mobile, where he was the pastor of two country churches in Orville and Camden, Ala.

"All he ever wanted to do was be a priest. He retired so many times we used to laugh about it," said his sister, Patricia Barbernitz of Rosedale. "He liked to take on a challenge. He did things the hard way. And he would not bend the church's rules."

He returned to Baltimore in 1999.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. today at St. Clement Mary Hofbauer Church, 1220 Chesaco Ave., Rosedale.

Survivors also include his mother, Anna Barbernitz of Rosedale; a brother, Peter Barbernitz Jr. of Denver, Pa.; another sister, Sister Mary Rita Barbernitz, O.S.F., of Trenton, N.J.; and five nieces and five nephews.

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