Americus Melvin Roy, 76, Catholic deacon

January 22, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Americus Melvin Roy, a Roman Catholic deacon who served at several Baltimore churches and in correctional facilities throughout the state for more than 30 years, died of liver cancer Monday at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. He was 76.

"He was a phenomenal character who touched and transformed thousands of lives. He had a great heart for social justice and the poor," said Therese Wilson Favors, director of the Office of African-American Ministries for the Archdiocese of Baltimore. "He used to say, `If you're close to the poor, then you're close to Jesus Christ.'"

Mr. Roy, a Baltimore native raised in the city near Central Avenue, was not born into the Catholic faith. But as a youth, he became acquainted with a priest at St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church in East Baltimore, and at the age of 17 was rechristened and confirmed in the faith.

"He told me he always admired his father, who went out of his way to help people. And he wanted to mold his life after his father in order to help those in need," said Barry F. Williams, director of the Baltimore County Office of Employment and Training and president of the pastoral council at St. Pius V Roman Catholic Church on North Schroeder Street.

After graduating from Dunbar High School in 1945, Mr. Roy served in the infantry in Europe for two years.

He had worked as a stationary engineer for Baltimore public schools and as a postal worker, but still aspired to the religious life. But because he was married, he was unable to become a priest.

In 1966, he began five years of theological training at Josephite Seminary in Washington, which culminated with his ordination in Baltimore as a permanent deacon in 1971.

He began his church career as a deacon for 12 years at St. Ambrose Roman Catholic Church, and later had assignments at St. Cecilia, St. Gregory the Great Roman and finally at St. Pius V, where he remained active until becoming ill in recent months.

Mr. Roy officiated at baptisms, weddings and funerals, and delivered homilies.

"He was there to fill in the spaces when I couldn't be there," said the Rev. Joseph F. Del Vecchio, pastor of both St. Pius V and St. Peter Claver churches. "I'd often turn to him for advice. He'd even take Communion to folks who were in the hospital and helped revitalize the St. Vincent de Paul Society at St. Pius V. Anything I asked him to do, he would jump right in."

Father Del Vecchio described him as "a laid-back, quiet, welcoming and soft-spoken type of person" whom "people liked because of his low-key manner."

"He was just a delightful human being who always had a big smile," Mr. Williams said. "He was upbeat, positive, encouraging and very spiritual. In his homilies, you could always tell his reverence for the Lord, whom he did not ever take for granted."

In addition to his church work, Mr. Roy ministered to prisoners at the Baltimore jail and at prisons in Jessup and Hagerstown.

"He didn't care what your status was because he could meet you there," Mrs. Favors said. "He was a powerful man who could help with those inner transformations."

Mr. Roy favored berets and jaunty hand-tied bow ties, and was a colorful storyteller. He had been active in the civil rights movement and the Baltimore Ministerial Alliance, and was a founding member of Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development.

Mr. Roy was married for more than 40 years to Doris Braxton, who died in 1996. In 1999, he married the former Betty Brooks, minister of music at St. Gregory's.

He enjoyed reading theological books and was an avid Ravens and Orioles fan.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Ambrose, 4502 Park Heights Ave.

Besides his wife, Mr. Roy also is survived by a daughter, Melvina Roy of Baltimore; five stepsons, Kenneth Brooks of Carlson, Calif., William Brooks of Pasadena, Calif., Chauncey Brooks of Baltimore, Dwight Brooks of West Point, N.Y., and Aaron Johnson of Havre de Grace; 11 stepdaughters, Wanda Barnhill and Felicia Spruill, both of Greenville, N.C., Laura Cuffia, Karen Millington, Celeste Hamlin, Amy Harris, Barbara Clark and Sandra Braxton, all of Baltimore, Elizabeth Inman of Charlotte, N.C., Hope B. Wells of Fairbanks, Alaska, and Latitia Rogers of Raleigh, N.C.; 35 grandchildren; and 15 great-grandchildren.

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