Keeler plans to remain in Baltimore

May 10, 2007|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,Sun reporter

The leader of Baltimore's Catholics says he plans to stay in the city even after a successor is named by Pope Benedict XVI.

In an extensive interview with The Sun in which he discussed his post-retirement plans for the first time, Cardinal William H. Keeler said that he wants to remain at the helm of the Basilica Historic Trust when the pope replaces him as archbishop of Baltimore.

The cardinal was required by canon law to submit his resignation letter to the Vatican last year, after his 75th birthday. He turned 76 in March, and Keeler said the secretive vetting of possible candidates has begun - though he added he has no idea when a new archbishop will be selected.

"I have indications that there is some movement, but I'm really still waiting to hear an exact date," the cardinal said during the interview at the Catholic Center downtown this week.

Keeler said he has completed a report on the state of the archdiocese and sent it to Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the United States' apostolic nuncio, or Vatican delegate, who must compose his own commentary.

"We've already done all those things," Keeler said. "I don't know where's he's at, but I know where I am."

Vatican officials will use those documents to make their decision on the next archbishop.

Keeler declined to discuss in detail what qualities or skills he hoped a successor would have, though being a good listener would be key, he said. "I would prefer to talk to the Holy Father about that," Keeler said at first.

"I think that ... he has to be a good listener ... one who listens, and who acts with certain courage and conviction," he added a moment later.

His future ambitions are more clear.

"I hope to stay here in Baltimore, and I want to continue to work with the Basilica Historic Trust," Keeler said.

The cardinal serves as president of the historic trust. He said he intends to continue with the trust, just as Archbishop William D. Borders stayed on to guide the celebration of the diocese's bicentennial.

Keeler was appointed archbishop in 1989, just before the 200th anniversary of the creation of the Diocese of Baltimore, the first established in the United States of America.

At Keeler's request, Borders continued to lead the organization planning the bicentennial celebration after he retired.

"I asked him especially to do that," Keeler said.

Even going back to his days as archbishop, Keeler said, he and other board members have played an active role at the trust's regular meetings, reviewing plans for the restoration and rededication, as well as costs and other matters.

Now, the basilica - the first Roman Catholic cathedral built in America - is enjoying attention on a national level, with more than 60,000 visitors since it reopened in November, according to the historic trust. So many people have sought to visit the Benjamin Latrobe-designed structure at Cathedral and Mulberry streets that the basilica needs to recruit and train additional tour guides, the cardinal says.

"We have an onslaught of visitors that we didn't really fully anticipate," Keeler said. "It's a marvelous gift, but we're not exactly sure how we have to handle it."

The cardinal presided over reopening activities in November, though he was still recovering from a broken ankle and other injuries caused by a car accident while vacationing with two priests in Italy. He says he resumed travel and other responsibilities "instantly after the rededication."

"I began following my usual schedule to the extent possible. There were some limitations because of the gadget," Keeler said, referring to his walker.

He said he has made progress with physical therapy. "I discarded the cane about a month ago," Keeler said.

Though he has determined how he plans to spend his future, the cardinal said he is not sure where he will live when he retires. "I think that will be up to my successor," said Keeler, who resides in the archbishop's residence on Charles Street.

Completed in 1831, the residence has been home to every Baltimore prelate since fourth archbishop James Whitfield - except for Borders.

When Borders was appointed in 1974, he moved into the sexton's lodge at the Basilica rather than displace Cardinal Lawrence J. Shehan, who lived in the archbishop's residence. Shehan died in 1984. Borders remained in the sexton's lodge through his tenure as archbishop and most of his retirement.

The former archbishop has moved to the Mercy Ridge retirement community in Timonium, and the sexton's lodge has been converted into the rededicated basilica's gift shop.

To hear excerpts of an interview with Cardinal William H. Keeler, go to

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