BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The much beloved Cardinal William Keeler, died Thursday at the age of 86.
He served Baltimore from 1989 to 2007.
Keeler led the archdiocese with a steady, gentle hand, first as archbishop, then as cardinal.
He was elevated in 1994 by Pope John Paul II in a mass at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican.
A year later, in 1995, Cardinal Keeler welcomed the Pope to Baltimore.
“We welcome you to Baltimore in Maryland.”
It was an unforgettable day for Baltimore, and something the cardinal reflected on in an interview more than a decade later.
“I’ll tell you, it was the moment when he made the sign of the cross in the stadium and turned it in an instant to an outdoor cathedral.”
In 2005, WJZ traveled with Cardinal Keeler to Rome for Pope John Paul’s funeral and then watched as he helped elect the next leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict.
A year later Cardinal Keeler re-dedicated The Basilica of the Assumption, after leading a $32 million dollar restoration of America’s first cathedral, all through private funds.
Cardinal Keeler may be best remembered though for building strong interfaith bonds and was particularly noted for his work establishing a Catholic-Jewish partnership.
In his 18 years as the leader of the Baltimore archdiocese, Cardinal Keeler also led local Catholics through some tumultuous times, disclosing priests involved in the sex abuse scandal.
“What we are releasing now will cause pain to some of them but bring great relief to others.”
Cardinal Keeler retired in 2007 – describing his proudest achievement, starting “Partners in Excellence,” which is a program helping needy families afford the cost of Catholic Education.
To date, more than $29 million dollars in scholarships have been awarded.
The Maryland Catholic Conference released the following statement on Keeler’s death:
“Cardinal Keeler was a beloved friend and mentor to my predecessor Dick Dowling, and outstandingly kind and supportive to all of the Conference’s staff,” said Mary Ellen Russell, the Conference’s executive director. “He championed the values of the Church in the public square with compassion, respect and collaboration, and his example will continue to be a blessing on our work in Annapolis for many years to come.”