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Father John J. Bauer, chaplain in Vietnam and for the Baltimore Orioles, dies at 92

The Rev. John Bauer became chaplain to the Baltimore Orioles in 2004. (The Baltimore Sun/TNS)

The Rev. John Joseph Bauer, a Redemptorist Roman Catholic priest who served as a military chaplain during the Vietnam War and later became a Baltimore Orioles chaplain, died of cancer Dec. 20 at Stella Maris Hospice in Timonium. He was 92.

Born in Baltimore and raised on South Highland Avenue, he was the son of Sebastian Bauer, a Baltimore City sanitation worker, and his wife, Angela. He attended Sacred Heart of Jesus School and entered a religious order, the Redemptorist Fathers. He studied theology at St. Mary’s College near Erie, Pennsylvania, at the old Redemptorist novitiate in Ilchester and then in Esopus, New York. He was ordained in 1956.

He learned Spanish at the seminary and was assigned to parishes in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic from 1958 to 1970.

He made the decision to become an Army chaplain at age 42.

In a 2016 Maryland Public Television documentary about the Vietnam War, Father Bauer said, “I was too young for the Second World War. … Then I was a novice in Ilchester during the Korean War. We didn’t even know the Korean War was going on until the chaplain came in and told us. So I had that desire to go to Vietnam.”

A friend, Robert F. Hickey, said, “He was outgoing and went out of his way to reach out to people. It did not surprise me that Father Bauer wanted to serve.”

In the MPT interview, Father Bauer said that he got the rules relaxed so he could serve in two units, the 4th Division and the 196 Light Infantry. “On these various days like Easter, they flew all day. I flew to so many fire bases, five or six Masses.”

He also recalled, “One time, they brought this body over — the guys were all crying their eyes out. I thought it was another soldier. Then I saw a paw sticking out. It was the one-eyed dog who had saved the guys several times. He lost his eye saving them and now he was killed.”

He also said, “The soldiers took dogs very seriously. When they died, they buried them. When we moved on, they dug the dogs up and took them to another cemetery.”

Father Bauer, who was assigned to fire base Mary Anne for a period of his service, described an Easter Sunday during the war.

“I was in the elephant grass and on my knees,” he said. “Probably the smallest altar you wanted to see. It was a little ammunition box with a little purifier on it. Put my two chalices and sitting down saying Mass. … To this day, I don’t know how I got in there or how I got out.”

He praised the pilots who took him around the country.

“I really owed a lot to them as far as getting me to where I wanted to go to say Mass,” he said. “They’d stay out as long as I wanted. Not to say, sometimes I’d have to tell them it’s getting dark, for their own safety.”

He also recalled having to counsel soldiers when they received a Dear John letter from home.

“They would get a letter from a young wife who took up with somebody else and the language was so bad,” he said. “Then other times, I got called that somebody in the family had died. It was amazing how many times the healthy parent was the one that died. The kid knew something was wrong, but he expected it was his sick mother or sick father. You have to break the news, and they’re under pressure to start with.”

He also said, “Here’s a guy from Baltimore, and they bring in a crab [and steamed it.] I was afraid to eat it because I figured it might come out of the rice paddies … but I ate it.”

He also said in the documentary, “I just want to make sure you know this. I’m not a hero. Just a priest doing priestly work.”

Father Bauer was awarded a Bronze Star with the Oak Leaf Cluster in addition to other medals.

He was featured in the June 2016 Maryland Public Television three-hour documentary “Maryland Vietnam War Stories.”

After he retired from the military at 65, he became a civilian priest at Aberdeen Proving Ground. He later served at Sacred Heart of Jesus parish in Highlandtown.

“He complained that he was required to leave the military at 65. He boldly said, ‘I am not retired,’ ” said his friend, Mr. Hickey.

In 2004 Father Bauer became the Orioles chaplain.

“He became a great friend to Buck Showalter, Terry Crowley and Nick Markakis,” said Mr. Hickey.

In a 2007 Sun article, Father Bauer said he was stopped by an Orioles fan who asked, “Father, aren’t you praying for the Orioles?”

” ‘No, ma’am,’ he said. “ ‘I have other things I have to pray for first. Peace, military and the sick.’ “

Father Bauer said the one day he would not be at Oriole Park was Good Friday in 2012, when the team played. He said he held no ill will toward the team for accepting the MLB schedule.

“People blame the O’s for a lot of things,” he said in a Sun article. “This isn’t their fault.”

He said he would return to the park a couple of days later, on Easter to celebrate his usual Sunday morning Mass in the B&O Warehouse for players, staff, umpires and others who couldn’t make it to their home pews.

“We go from kind of a quiet solemnity, ” he said of this weekend, “to a hallelujah type of thing.”

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Saturday at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, 600 S. Conkling Street,.

Survivors include a sister, Marie Betch of Dundalk, and nieces and nephews.


© 2019 The Baltimore Sun