Former East Baltimore Redemptorist pastor dies at 85

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At an event in 2007, Deacon Alfonse Bankard III of Our Lady of Fatima, Baltimore (left to right) joined Cardinal William H. Keeler, Father Richard Poetzel, C.Ss.R., associate pastor of Our Lady of Fatima, and Father Edwin Foley, C.Ss.R., in residence, during a dedication ceremony of a monument of the Ten Commandments at Our Lady of Fatima. (CR file)

Redemptorist Father Richard Poetzel, former pastor of his home parish of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Highlandtown and Our Lady of Fatima in Baltimore, passed away on September 24 in the St. John Neumann community of Stella Maris in Timonium. He was 85 years old.

“He really was the priest of Highlandtown,” Father Poetzel’s nephew Barry Grzechowiak said in an email. “He was outgoing and loved to talk to people. What struck most people was his willingness to listen to them and be there for them. He had a welcoming presence and he really cared about them.

Father Poetzel was born to Carl and Magdalen (Weber). He had three brothers, Carroll, Jackie and Gerard, and a sister, Mary Ann. He attended the parish school of the Sacred Heart and served as a choir for the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He knew he wanted to be a priest from an early age, according to Grzechowiak.

“It was a tight-knit family and still is,” said Grzechowiak. “He always seemed to be there when I was young. It was so nice when he came home to serve in the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Our Lady of Fatima parishes in Baltimore. We could go to his masses and see him all the time.

From 1951 to 1957 Poetzel attended St. Mary’s Preparatory Seminary in North East, Pennsylvania, and made his temporary vows in St. Mary’s, Ilchester in 1958. He made his final vows on September 2, 1961 at Mount St. Alphonus Seminary in Esopus, NY, where he was ordained on June 23, 1963.

“His faith defined him,” Grzechowiak recalls. “He was a priest through and through and I can’t tell you how much he liked it. He loved religious life.

Redemptorist Father Richard Poetzel was known as a seasoned scholar. He obtained a master’s degree in library science. (Courtesy of the Redemptorists)

Father Poetzel obtained a master’s degree in library science in 1968 from the Catholic University of America in Washington DC, as well as a master’s degree in liturgical theology from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana in 1975.

He was assigned to the community of Holy Redeemer College in Washington DC from 1964 to 1965, and to Mount St. Alphonsus Seminary in Esopus NY where he taught liturgy and was librarian from 1965 to 1985.

“Everything he was asked to do in ministry he did,” recalls former Redemptorist student and friend Father Michael Sergi, a former pastor of St. Wenceslas in Baltimore and Our Lady of Fatima in Baltimore who now serves as the pastor of St. Gerard in Baltimore. Lima, Ohio.

“He put all his heart and all his soul into it,” said Father Sergi. “I think it gave him joy to have helped shape us, to help us.”

Father Poetzel attended the marriage meeting in the Hudson Valley and was chaplain to the Christian Brethren in West Park, periodically giving liturgical theology seminars to the nuns of the Redemptoristine Monastery of Esopus.

Father Poetzel served as rector of the St. John Neumann Residence in Saratoga Springs NY from 1985 to 1987, ministering to retired redeemers. He was then appointed pastor of his native parish of the Sacred Heart of Jesus where he served until 1993, when he became associate pastor of Our Lady of Fatima in Baltimore and then pastor in 2015.

Father Poetzel liked to devote his free time to family research and genealogy.

“He was the first Ancestry.com,” joked Redemptorist Father Robert Harrison, a former pastor of Our Lady of Fatima who served with Father Poetzel. “He had an insatiable interest in his family history. He spent most of his vacation at the Sacred Heart of Jesus combing through baptismal records.

Grzechowiak confirmed his uncle’s passion for family research.

“He loved the photos and working on our family tree,” he recalls. “He often brought it with him when he came to visit. He found out that we were distant relatives of Babe Ruth.

Father Poetzel looked after parishioners as well as foreigners.

“Richard made a point of going personally to the bank every week to make the deposit, but also to talk to the cashiers and the people in the line,” Father Harrison recalled. “Several times I have offered to do it and have been refused.”

Redemptorist Father Richard Poetzel enjoyed spending his free time with family research and genealogy. (Courtesy of the Redemptorists)

In January 2018, Father Poetzel was transferred to the St. John Neumann Residence in Timonium due to declining health.

“I think he would like to be remembered as a good and faithful servant of the people of God,” said Father Sergi. “He was a wonderful servant of God. Just by his life he showed what it meant.

During the funeral mass for Father Poetzel on September 30 at the Sacred Heart of Jesus-Sagrado Corazón de Jesús, Auxiliary Bishop of Baltimore Bruce Lewandowski, C.Ss.R., declared that his three great loves friend were the liturgy, the ministry of mourning through which he “had a heart for broken hearts” and more particularly his religious community, the Redemptorists.

Father Poetzel had the unique distinction of being with his Redemptorist brethren both when they were in seminary and then at the end of their life when they were in the Redemptorist retreat community, Bishop Lewandowski said.

“He was there when they started and at their finish line,” said the bishop.

George Matysek Jr. contributed to this story.

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