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Pa. community mourns passing of retired priest

December 27, 2006|by KATE S. ALEXANDER

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - "When Tom walked into a room, you immediately liked him," the Rev. Joseph Carolin said.

Pausing to gather his thoughts, Carolin said it is difficult to characterize the Rev. Thomas Hemler, a longtime former priest at St. Andrew Catholic Church in Waynesboro who died Dec. 20 at the age of 77.

"He had the gift of being right there with you," Carolin said. "He was very present. He paid attention."

Even in his 70s, Hemler was known for his youthful and conversational nature, Carolin said.

Kathy Bourdeau, lifelong member of St. Andrew and now its music director, remembered most his love of conversation.

"Father Hemler just wanted to sit and talk with people," Bourdeau said. "He never cared for the business end of ministry."

Bourdeau said Hemler found his niche in the community of Waynesboro.

"He identified with the people of this town," she said.

Hemler served as pastor at St. Andrew from 1983 to 2004, when he retired from the ministry.

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Carolin, chaplain at South Mountain Restoration Center, knew Hemler as a "buddy."

"He was Christ-like," Carolin said. "He was the side of Christ that walked with people and celebrated with people of every age."

Carolin said he and Hemler would speak at length and discuss ideas, theology and philosophy.

"He was very interested in the notion of God as available to people," Carolin said.

Thinking back on his many discussions with Hemler, Carolin could not help but become emotional.

"We all are glad we knew him," he said. "He was not a clerical suit, but a real person,"

Despite a deep connection to Waynesboro, Hemler did not grow up in the area. He was born in McSherrystown, Pa., in 1929, son of the late George D. and M. Fern Hoffhines Hemler.

A Mass of the Christian burial will be celebrated today at 1 p.m. at Annunciation Catholic Church in McSherrystown. The Most Rev. Kevin C. Rhoades and Carolin will be celebrants. Burial will follow in the Annunciation Parish Cemetery in McSherrystown.

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