Keeler injured in auto accident

Car crash in Italy kills Pa. priest on vacation with Baltimore cardinal

October 10, 2006|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,Sun reporter

For years, they have traveled together, the archbishop of Baltimore and his two longtime friends, fellow priests from his former diocese in Harrisburg, Pa.

Sometimes across the United States, other times around the world, the trio's vacations frequently included visits to historic churches, what one church official likened to a "spiritual pilgrimage."

But over the weekend, their latest trip - to Italy - turned tragic when a serious auto accident left one of the clergymen dead. Now, Cardinal William H. Keeler and his other friend, usually the ones comforting the bereaved, are themselves injured and in mourning.

The Rev. Bernard Quinn, 78, a retired priest from the Diocese of Harrisburg, was killed in the crash about 60 miles outside of Rome, said officials at the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Keeler is expected to be released from the hospital today along with Monsignor Thomas H. Smith, pastor of St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Lancaster, Pa.

A car struck the passenger side of their vehicle in the city of Terni, said an archdiocese spokesman, Sean Caine. Smith was driving, Keeler was in the front passenger seat, and Quinn rode in the back.

Smith, 75, cracked several ribs; Keeler, 75, broke an ankle and has a cast. The cardinal - who could not be reached for comment yesterday - told archdiocesan officials that he was wearing his seat belt and that his air bag inflated, Caine said. No information was available on the specifics of the accident, including the driver of the other car.

The cardinal was originally due to return to Baltimore later this week, Caine said, but it was unknown yesterday how the accident will affect his plans.

Information about the accident was not released until yesterday so Quinn's family could be notified. Funeral arrangements have not been announced. Several days could pass before they can be established because of the paperwork and bureaucracy involved in releasing the body, said Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the Diocese of Harrisburg at a news conference yesterday in Hunt Valley.

The three clergymen were good friends who often vacationed together, said Bishop W. Francis Malooly, who as vicar general oversees the day-to-day operations of the archdiocese in Baltimore. They had traveled abroad and within the United States, usually visiting historic churches.

"It was always like a spiritual pilgrimage for them," Malooly said.

Keeler spent more than three decades working in the Diocese of Harrisburg, including six years as its bishop, before being appointed archbishop of Baltimore, according to the biography on the archdiocese Web site.

Quinn was ordained for the Glenmary Home Missioners in 1953 and worked in Ohio, West Virginia, Georgia, Washington and Rome before serving the Diocese of Harrisburg at Holy Infant Church in York Haven and Hanover's St. Vincent de Paul Church, according to the Diocese of Harrisburg. He retired in 2001.

According to a biography on the St. Joseph parish Web site, Smith attended seminary at St. Charles College in Catonsville and in Philadelphia before he was ordained 49 years ago. His Lancaster parishioners were informed of the accident Sunday during services.

Rhoades said that the bishop of Terni, Vincenzo Paglia, is a good friend of Keeler's, but church officials did not know whether the three were visiting him at the time.

Priests from the Harrisburg diocese had gathered yesterday in Hunt Valley for their annual weeklong workshop, Rhoades said. The bishop announced Quinn's death at morning prayers, he said, and they offered yesterday's Mass for Quinn and for the speedy recovery of Smith and Keeler.

The cardinal told Rhoades during a phone call that just before the accident, Quinn had said he was happy, at peace and "ready to meet the Lord whenever he calls me," Rhoades said.

"With hope in the resurrection, we entrust Father Quinn to the Lord," Rhoades said. The cardinal did not focus on his own condition but instead spoke of his belief that "Quinn was with the Lord," Rhoades said.

Malooly said he received a voice mail message from Keeler but did not speak to the cardinal until Sunday.

"This was a shock to them, to both of their systems," Malooly said of Keeler and Smith.

The rector of the Pontifical North American College in Rome, Msgr. James F. Checchio, visited Keeler and Smith at the hospital yesterday, Malooly said.

Both Caine and Malooly said that despite the injury, the cardinal will participate in the events surrounding the reopening of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary next month. But his activities might differ from what was originally planned.

"Clearly it'll be a little bit more problematic with the cast on his ankle," Malooly said.

But an elevator was installed in the basilica as part of the renovation, noted Rocco Palmo, U.S. correspondent for The Tablet, an international Catholic weekly based in London.

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