The Rev. Bernard J. Suppe, the longtime chaplain at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore who overcame a tragic childhood to spread joy and hope to the sick and dying, died of a stroke Saturday at the hospital. He was 82.
Over the past year, Father Suppe maintained his wry humor and good spirits despite deteriorating health that included operations on his spine, a total hip replacement and the implanting of a pacemaker in his chest.
Bent nearly in half and hobbling around the hospital with the aid of a walker, Father Suppe told a reporter for The Catholic Review last month: "I'm bent over now, but my back is not me. My heart, soul and mind are very erect. ... Keep on smiling. It's contagious, it's infectious, you can catch it like the flu."
Before he became chaplain at Mercy in 1984, Father Suppe, a Jesuit, served as a professor of philosophy at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia from 1978 to 1983 and at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania from 1957 to 1976. He taught at Gonzaga High School in Washington from 1949 to 1952.
The Rev. John Podsiadlo - superior of the Jesuit community at St. Ignatius Loyola Roman Catholic Church, to which Father Suppe belonged - recalled that he treated all the people he came into contact with as if they were important.
"One of his favorite compact discs was by Nat King Cole, and the first song on it was `Unforgettable,'" Father Podsiadlo said. "Father Suppe was unforgettable to the people he touched because his approach was that all these people were unforgettable."
His sunny demeanor came despite a difficult childhood in Philadelphia. His mother and father died of illnesses by the time he was 6 years old, and he was raised by an uncle and aunt, Bernard and Mary Mollahan.
"It was unfortunate that he lost his mother and father, and they never got to see how wonderful he turned out to be," said Edward D'Agostino of Scranton, Pa., Father Suppe's cousin. "But he was raised by two very holy people. And he always cared more about other people than himself."
Father Suppe graduated from St. Louis University in Missouri in 1948 and was ordained a priest in 1955 at Woodstock College in Woodstock.
After more than two decades of teaching, he served as parochial vicar of Old St. Joseph's Church in Philadelphia from 1976 to 1984.
That year, he joined the staff of Mercy Medical Center as chaplain in the hospital's pastoral care department. It was here that he was happiest, using wit to help bring peace and reassurance to people suffering from illness, said his cousin and others.
"Father Suppe will long be remembered for his incredible sense of humor, quick wit and ready smile ... for his philosophic and curious side, for his wonderful voice and appreciation of song, his love of historical facts, and most of all, for his warm heart, gentle spirit and caring ways," said Thomas R. Mullen, president and CEO of Mercy Medical Center.
Sister Helen Amos, executive chairwoman of the board of trustees for Mercy Health Systems, said, "Father Suppe was that rare individual who truly believed in joy ... that it was around us, and within us, every day."
A viewing will be held tomorrow in the Mercy Medical Center chapel, 301 St. Paul Place, with a prayer service at 5:30 p.m. A funeral Mass will be offered at 7:30 p.m. at St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church, 740 N. Calvert St.
In addition to Mr. D'Agostino, he is survived by another cousin, Michael J. Smith of Berlin. N.J.