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‘Hardworking’ Baltimore County pastor renowned for hospitality dies suddenly

Father Michael Carrion, left, and Father Patrick Carrion, right, prepare food for a priest picnic in 2014 at the Monsignor O’Dwyer retreat house in Sparks. (CR file)

Father Michael W. Carrion, a longtime Baltimore County pastor known for his strong work ethic and boundless hospitality, died suddenly Nov. 30.

The pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary in Baynesville had offered a funeral Mass and burial service for a parishioner that morning, and was leaving the cemetery when he suffered an apparent heart attack while in a hearse. He was 68.

“The death of Father Carrion is a tremendous loss for the Archdiocese (of Baltimore) and for the people of IHM parish and school, to whom he was so devoted,” Archbishop William E. Lori said in a written statement. “His death is a terrible shock and a devastating loss. The impact of his priestly ministry will be felt in this Archdiocese for many years to come.”

Ordained in 1977 at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland, Father Carrion’s early assignments included posts as associate pastor of Sacred Heart, Glyndon; Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Woodlawn; and St. Margaret in Bel Air. He served as pastor of St. Clare in Essex from 1992 to 2000 and pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary from 2000 until his death.

Kathy Wandishin, who served as an administrative assistant at St. Clare during Father Carrion’s tenure there, called her friend the “most generous” person she ever met.

“He was completely selfless,” said Wandishin, now an administrative assistant in the development office of Archbishop Curley High School in Baltimore.

Father Michael Carrion, front center, hosted a dinner gathering in 2017 with his brother, Father Patrick Carrion, far right, celebrating clergy and seminarians who have siblings in ordained ministry. (CR file)

Wandishin noted that whenever the parish held a dinner, Seder, volunteer party or other special event, Father Carrion insisted on preparing and serving the food. He would later be found taking down tables and mopping the hall floor.

“No task was beneath him,” Wandishin said.

In 2017, Father Carrion joined his brother, Father Patrick Carrion, in hosting a dinner gathering at Immaculate Heart of Mary celebrating their 75 combined years in the priesthood and honoring other clergy and seminarians who had siblings in ordained ministry.

Father Michael Carrion also held Thanksgiving dinners for priests and seminarians who did not have family in the archdiocese, and he and Father Patrick Carrion hosted annual summer picnics for seminarians.

Wandishin said Father Carrion was constantly working. He was known for writing emails at 2 or 3 in the morning. When someone asked him about it, she said, the priest changed the display settings on his email so no one would notice how late he was working.

Father Carrion was especially supportive of Wandishin’s family when her son, John, was ill with cancer. He made dinners for the family and was present for them even after taking up a new assignment at Immaculate Heart of Mary.

“The night before Johnny died (in 2005),” she said, “Father Mike made dinner for everyone.”

Donna Bradley, adminsitrative assistant at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Baynesville, and Father Michael Carrion, pastor, are shown in a Catholic Review file photo. (CR file)

Father Patrick Carrion, pastor of St. Bernadette in Severn, said his brother was a “tremendous support” in seminary and during his priesthood. He called it a “gift” that his brother made the vestments for him and others who became priests at Father Patrick Carrion’s 1982 ordination.

“There are some things that happen in a priest’s ministry that are hard to explain to those not a priest and, at times, personal things may not be shared even with another priest,” Father Patrick Carrion said. “When you have a brother as a priest, he understands the priesthood part and the personal part all in one.”

The Carrions came from a family steeped in Catholicism. Their uncle, Father Martin Flahavan, was a priest of the archdiocese. They also had a great aunt who was a Sister of the Good Shepherd, a cousin who was a priest and another great aunt who was a School Sister of Notre Dame. Their father was an engineer for NASA.

“Growing up, the priesthood was always an option,” Father Michael Carrion said in a 2017 interview with the Catholic Review. “We saw that religious vocations were always supported by our family.”

Father Steven Roth, vocations director for the archdiocese, said Father Carrion was an “invaluable resource” in supporting religious vocations. Several seminarians were assigned to Father Carrion’s parish every year and were placed under his supervision. They included international candidates.

In addition to helping international students get acclimated to life as a seminarian, Father Carrion “took care to assist them in adjusting to their new American culture, both administratively and in the community,” Father Roth said.

“His witness of the priesthood to the seminarians he mentored was a true blessing,” Father Roth said.

An avid model train enthusiast, Father Michael W. Carrion is seen Jan. 16, 2019 with his annual Christmas display in the Immaculate Heart of Mary rectory in Baynesville. Each year, students from the parish school would visit the expansive display during the holidays. The former pastor died suddenly Nov. 30 of an apparent heart attack. (Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff)

Father Carrion, the eldest of three brothers, grew up in St. Dominic Parish in Baltimore’s Hamilton neighborhood and St. Louis Parish in Clarksville. The Cardinal Gibbons alumnus prepared for the priesthood at St. Mary’s Seminary College in Catonsville and the Theological College at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Thomas Bozek, director of music and liturgy at Immaculate Heart of Mary, said Father Carrion was an expert keeper of finances at the parish and a strong supporter of its school. He oversaw renovations that included new roofs, window replacements in the school, a new heating system in the school and air conditioning in the church. The parish also installed a $500,000 pipe organ in 2008.

“He was mindful of expenses and could stretch funds to get the most out of things,” Bozek said. “Everything was all paid and done without going into debt.”

Bozek remembered that Father Carrion was a “very enthusiastic” singer who supported good liturgical music. The priest, longtime spiritual director of the Holy Name Union, sang the national anthem at an Orioles game in 2010 during a Holy Name night at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Father Carrion, who also served on the archdiocesan tribunal, annually devoted much time to setting up an elaborate Christmas train garden at Immaculate Heart of Mary. The collection included more than 150 lighted buildings.

Father Michael Carrion sings the National Anthem at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore in 2010. (CR file)

Father Edward Hendricks, pastor of Divine Mercy Parish in Western Maryland and a seminary classmate of Father Carrion, said making people feel welcome was at the heart of his friend’s ministry.

“At Immaculate Heart of Mary, he would have two or three funerals a week,” Father Hendricks said. “He worked individually with each family and really tried to be there for people whenever they needed him.”

Before coming to Immaculate Heart of Mary, Father Carrion learned sign language to be able to minister to a parishioner who was deaf, Father Hendricks said. While at St. Clare, Father Carrion signed at the Shrine of the Little Flower in Baltimore and celebrated signed Masses for the wider deaf community several times a year at St. Clare.

Father Hendricks remembered that Father Carrion loved international traveling with priest friends. The two were in Turkey in 1999 when an earthquake hit. The disaster delayed their return to the United States.

Father Hendricks noted that in burying the dead right before he died, Father Carrion’s last act on earth was a corporal work of mercy.

“That’s a testament to his ministry and his life,” he said.

A viewing and visitation will be held Dec. 3 from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Ruck Funeral Home in Towson and Dec. 4 from 2 to 8 p.m. at Immaculate Heart of Mary. A wake and vigil service will be offered Dec. 4 at 7:30 p.m. at Immaculate Heart of Mary. The funeral Mass will be offered Dec. 5 at 11 a.m. at Immaculate Heart of Mary.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Carrion-Flahavan Endowment for Our Daily Bread here.  

Watch a video of Father Carrion below:

Also see:

Father Michael Carrion makes anthem ‘Holy’

All in the family: Siblings, fathers and sons celebrate ordained ministry

This Priest Appreciation Day, thank priests who change lives

 

Email George Matysek at gmatysek@CatholicReview.org.