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Redemptorist Father Joseph Krastel, served as professor, preached overseas, dies at 81

Father Joseph F. Krastel, whose ministry as a Redemptorist priest took him to academia, the Carribean, Eastern Europe, South America and back to his roots in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, died Nov. 22, eight days prior to his 82nd birthday. 

Father Krastel, who had suffered from cancer, died at the rectory at St. Mary’s in Annapolis, where he had been an associate pastor since 2012. Redemptorist Father Patrick Woods, St. Mary’s pastor, first encountered him 50 years ago, when Father Krastel was among his seminary instructors.

“Even when I was provincial (of the Baltimore Province), he was still my superior,” Father Woods said. “Seriously, he was a good guy, one of the most zealous priests I’ve ever met. Our founder (St. Alphonsus Liguori) vowed never to waste a moment. That was Father Joe.

“He never did just one thing. He tried to use his talents as often as he could.”

Father Krastel was born at Mercy Hospital in Baltimore, and attended Blessed Sacrament School in Govans. In 1952 he entered the Redemptorist minor seminary in North East, Pa., where he received his high school education and two years of college. He was 13 when he left home, and known for his precocity.

Bob Krastel, one of his two brothers, recalls their father driving young Joseph from their home in Ednor Gardens to Blessed Sacrament for daily Mass. His inspiration for the priesthood, according to Krastel, includes a great-uncle, Herman, who was studying to be a Redemptorist when he died.

“All he wanted to do was become a priest,” Bob Krastel said of his brother. “My father built an altar in the basement, so he could ‘say Mass.’ At one daily Mass, no altar boy showed, and my brother walked right up on the altar and didn’t miss a beat. He knew all of his Latin responses before he was in the second grade.”

In August 1959, Father Krastel pronounced his vows at the Redemptorist novitiate in Ilchester. He earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in religious education from Mount St. Alphonsus in Esopus, N.Y., where he was ordained to the priesthood in June 1964. 

According to an obituary prepared by the Redemptorists, from 1966 to 1975 Father Krastel served as a professor at St. Alphonsus College in Suffield, Conn., the Redemptorist seminary where he taught Father Woods.

Father Krastel obtained a master’s degree in library science from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., in 1966, and a master’s degree in education from Iona College in 1970. 

He served as rector of the juvenate (novices) at St. Mary’s Seminary in North East, Pa., 1975-81, and vocation director for the province, 1981-84, when he resided at St. Alphonsus College.

He served at St. Wenceslaus Parish in Baltimore, 1985-87; and was rector of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Boston, as its Mission Hill neighborhood was undergoing great change, a time that included him blessing a new AIDS hospice.

Father Krastel was on the staff of the Holy Redeemer retreat house community in Eggleston, Dominica, an island country midway between Puerto Rico and Venezuela, from 1993 to 1999. Those years also saw him embark on an international preaching ministry that took him to Colombia, Guyana, Jamaica, Poland and Russia. 

He served as rector of St. Patrick’s in Grand Bay, Dominica, 1999-2005; and was rector of Seelos House in Palmiste, caring for Our Lady of the Assumption, Vieux Fort, St. Lucia, in the West Indies, 2006-10.

He spent the last eight years at St. Mary’s in Annapolis, where he became a regular visitor to the sick at Anne Arundel General Hospital, even when his own cancer worsened. 

“Father Joe was at the hospital three, four times a week,” Father Woods said. “He was very sick, but he would not stop. The day he died, he intended to celebrate 5:30 p.m. Mass. If I had told him that he couldn’t celebrate Mass, he would have thrown me in the Severn River.”

Father Krastel’s final assignment gave him greater access to one of his passions, the Baltimore Orioles. His brother said he had also been a big fan of the Baltimore Colts, to the point where his father’s letters to him at seminary included newspaper clippings and photos of the teams’ exploits.

He baptized and officiated at the weddings of many of his 13 nieces and nephews, and shared the sacraments with many of their children. Father Krastel was an inveterate correspondent, writing letters to the Baltimore Sun and other publications, and having several guest commentaries published in the Catholic Review.

Visitation will be held at St. Mary’s Nov. 30, 5:15-7:15 p.m., with a wake service at 7:30 p.m. A funeral Mass will be offered Dec. 1, at 10 a.m., at St. Mary’s, with burial to follow at the Redemptorist Gardens in Carroll Gardens, on the parish’s Duke of Gloucester Street campus. 

A memorial Mass will be offered Dec. 5, at 9 a.m., at St. John Neumann, a mission of St. Mary’s. Because of the pandemic, attendance at the various services is restricted.

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