Rev. John Kelmartin

[Age 83] The priest with the Irish wit served generations of students and parishioners in the archdiocese.

March 11, 2007|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

The Rev. John J. Kelmartin, who taught generations of priests at several schools and later served in area parishes, died Thursday of heart failure at Stella Maris Hospice. He was 83 and had been a priest for nearly 60 years.

Father Kelmartin had retired in 1994 after seven years as pastor of Our Lady of Victory Roman Catholic Church in Arbutus. However, he continued to fill in at many parishes, insisting he was "not ready to be shipped off to a home yet," according to a newspaper account of his retirement celebration.

"He was a humble, self-effacing man, the kind of man a priest should be," said the Rev. Michael Roach, who succeeded Father Kelmartin as pastor of St. Bartholomew Church in Manchester. "When he came here, this was a small country parish. He lived in a couple of rooms above the Sunday school, near the business office, and dreamed of a new church building."

Father Kelmartin returned to St. Bartholomew's in December, 20 years after serving as its pastor, for the dedication of a new church.

"Parishioners queued up to see him and didn't pay much attention to the bishops who were also visiting," said Father Roach.

"He had great people skills," said Father Roach. "When you spoke to him, he made you feel he was honored to talk to you."

A native of Baltimore, Father Kelmartin grew up in Govans and rode the streetcar to Blessed Sacrament parish school. In 1938, soon after graduating from the eighth grade, he entered the former St. Charles College, a high school for students interested in the priesthood. He was 13 and lived and studied with about 75 others.

Father Kelmartin was ordained in 1949 and joined the Sulpicians, an order dedicated to instructing priests. Father Kelmartin's first assignment was teaching English at his alma mater, St. Charles. He also taught at St. Edward's Seminary in Seattle and St. Stephen's Seminary in Hawaii. He returned to Maryland in 1975, to St. Mary's Seminary College in Catonsville.

"Everyone told us he was a great teacher whose Irish wit always came through," said a niece, Lori Bert, a resident of Baltimore County.

When the school, which is now the site of the Charlestown retirement community, closed in 1977, Father Kelmartin went into parish work in Carroll County. He first served at St. Joseph in Sykesville and was later named pastor at St. Bartholomew's.

"He loved parish work," said the Rev. John W. Bowen, a classmate. "He helped out at a number of parishes well into his retirement."

Throughout his life, Father Kelmartin maintained strong ties with his extended family, which includes 17 nieces and nephews. The family often gathered in Ocean City for summer vacations.

An unfailing fan of the Baltimore Orioles, Father Kelmartin relied on the radio when he could not make it to the stadium.

The Rev. William Newman, retired auxiliary bishop of the Baltimore archdiocese, will offer the funeral Mass for Father Kelmartin, a boyhood friend, at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Our Lady of Victory Church, 4414 Wilkens Ave. Father Bowen will give the homily.

Survivors also include sisters Ann Kelmartin of Towson and Mary Brocato of Fort Myers Beach, Fla.; and brothers Thomas Kelmartin of Clark, N.J., and William Kelmartin of Finksburg.

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