In Loving Memory OF
MSGR. EDWARD M. MILLER
August 18, 1945 - December 15, 2013
On December 15, 2013, God called our beloved pastor, Msgr. Edward M. Miller, home. He was preparing to celebrate the morning Mass with us, but God had plans for him to sing with the angels. Our hearts were broken, but our spirits endured. We honor his memory with this page and with the ministry that he taught us how to engage.
Edward Michael Miller was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on August 18, 1945. He was the second of three sons of the late Ruth and James Miller. His older brother, James, is a professed Brother in the Congregation of the Holy Cross, and his younger brother, the late Thomas, was professed in the Congregation of Christian Brothers.
Msgr. Miller (a.k.a., Fr. Ed, Fred, and M&M) spent his early years at St. Joseph Monastery School in the Irvington section of the City. Once, when he was about 8 years old, his mother was listening to him study the seven Sacraments. As he recited them and came to the Sacrament of Holy Orders, he turned to her and said “that’s one Sacrament I am going to receive.” A few years later the family moved to St. Ursula’s parish. Since the school was overcrowded, Edward and his younger brother commuted to St. James School. They were both “A” students, and on report card day they compared their grades to see who had the most “A’s.”
After completing grade school, Edward entered St. Charles Seminary, Catonsville, in 1959, where he spent six years – four years of high school and the first two years of college. He finished his last two years of college at St. Mary’s Seminary on Paca Street, where he received a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy in June 1967. Edward then completed four years of theological studies at St. Mary’s Seminary in Roland Park.
As a seminarian, Edward served at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church on Mosher Street, the Joseph House on McCullough Street, and St. Gregory the Great Church on Gilmor Street. He was ordained a deacon on Easter Sunday in 1970 and assigned to St. Ambrose Parish in Pimlico. He was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Baltimore on May 15, 1971, and continued his ministry at St. Ambrose as an associate pastor. While there, he became a co-founder of the St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center and helped establish the St. Ambrose Outreach Center, which is now operated by the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
After serving at St. Ambrose Church, Fr. Ed was transferred to St. Bernardine’s in June of 1975. In the years leading up to his arrival, the Edmondson Village neighborhood, in which the Church was located, had undergone rapid change. A victim of “blockbusting,” the neighborhood went from mostly White residents to predominantly Black residents in under two years. Consequently, the community also transitioned from Catholic to non-Catholic (only 4-5% of African Americans are Catholic). The parish dwindled and declined in membership in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
When Fr. Ed arrived in 1975, he was joined by Fr. Maurice Blackwell (ordained just one year), and the two priests served as part of a ministry team for the parish. They were able to convince the parishioners that the Archdiocese would not have assigned two 29 year old priests to a parish that it intended to close. That logic made sense and caught on, replacing despair with new hope. Frs. Miller and Blackwell ministered together until Fr. Blackwell was assigned to nearby St. Edward’s Church, allowing Fr. Miller to become the Pastor of St. Bernardine’s in September 1980.
As Pastor, Fr. Miller cultivated a Catholic liturgy that integrated African American spirituality and developed a style of “being church” that involved active community presence. Through an emphasis on youth, evangelization, community outreach, and worship that was decidedly Black and Catholic, the parish began to grow. St. Bernardine’s became one of Baltimore’s largest Catholic parishes, having grown now to be the largest African American Catholic parish in the Archdiocese.
In the spring of 1997, a dream came true for Fr. Ed: the parish was asked by the Archdiocese to take over Madonna Catholic School, beginning with the 1997-98 school year. The school was located at St. Joseph Monastery parish (where he had gone to school!). The parish agreed to accept the challenge – a challenge that no other city parish had taken on before – to take over a dying regional school, convert it into to a parish school, and, in essence, give re-birth to St. Bernardine’s Catholic School. For 13 years the school remained open until June 2010, when the Archdiocese closed the school, along with twelve others, as part of its effort to consolidate Catholic schools.
Throughout his long career as a priest, Fr. Miller was committed to ministering in the African American Catholic community. Over the years he attended the Paulist Institute of Evangelization, the Billy Graham Evangelization School, and the Robert Schuller Institute for Church Growth, as well as several institutes sponsored by the National Office for Black Catholics. During a six month sabbatical in 1996, Fr. Miller traveled throughout the East coast and Midwest with the goal of improving his ministry to the African American Catholic community. He visited other African American churches, as well as Protestant megachurches, to study their methods of evangelization.
Fr. Ed served on a variety of boards and commissions throughout his priesthood. He directed the Archdiocesan Urban Commission Office, as well as the Urban Evangelization Committee of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. He co-chaired the first Archdiocesan Urban Evangelization Festival in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor area, an event that drew 7,000 people. He was a member of the Archdiocesan Presbyteral Council at the time of his death. He also served as a faculty member of a number of programs and institutions, including the DeSales School of Theology in Washington, D.C., which provided the certification for the “Pastoring in the African American Catholic Parish” program, sponsored by the National Black Catholic Congress; the Paulist Fathers’ National Catholic Evangelization Workshop; and a doctoral course on Evangelization for St. Mary’s Seminary & University.
A gifted speaker, Fr. Ed lectured and offered workshops in evangelization and church growth for the Paulist National Office of Evangelization, the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Pastoral Liturgy, the National Office for Black Catholics, the National Black Catholic Congress, and the Robert Schuller Film Workshop on Evangelization and Church Growth. He served as a revivalist at various churches, from Watts in Los Angeles to Harlem in New York.
On November 21, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI conferred on (then) Fr. Miller the title of Chaplain to His Holiness, whereupon he became known as Monsignor Miller. The title of Monsignor is given by the Holy Father, upon the recommendation of diocesan bishops, to acknowledge the contributions that a priest makes to the wider church community. At the investiture ceremony, in which the titles were formally conferred on Msgr. Miller and nine other priests, then Archbishop (now Cardinal) Edwin F. O’Brien remarked: “They represent so many of the ministries of the Archdiocese through the priesthood. They’re hard-working priests.
That’s the key to a good Archdiocese, and we’re grateful for that and wanted to show our appreciation.” Referring to how the priests reacted to the news that they had been named monsignors, the Archbishop noted with a grin, “There was stunned silence. They had no idea it was coming.” In 2011 Cardinal O’Brien appointed Msgr. Miller as the Vicar Forane for the Metro West Region of the St. John Neumann Vicariate, a leadership post in which he assisted the bishops in their administration of the Archdiocese.
Msgr. Miller, however, always maintained that the best “job” in the world was Pastor of St. Bernardine’s Catholic Church: “It’s just an incredible gift of joy and happiness,” he told the Catholic Review on the occasion of his 40th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood. “It’s got its moments of sorrow, but just helping people come to know the Lord, deepen their faith, and change their lives is incredible. God is using you for his kingdom and to do his work.”
(This text is based on the program celebrating Msgr. Miller’s 40th anniversary and the obituary published for his funeral on December 19, 2013.)