Hesler, Father Raymond Frederick, S.S.
2002, February 21
Date of Birth: 1909, August 22
In January of 2002, Rev. Raymond F. Hesler, S.S., had a fall in his room at St. Charles Villa, Catonsville, Maryland. Taken to St. Agnes Hospital, he stayed there for a month and returned on February 16, to be cared for at St. Martin’s Home for the Aged in Catonsville, Maryland. In spite of the attention of the Little Sisters of the Poor, he died at 1:00 a.m. on February 21, 2002.
His death stirred up more than ninety years of memories. Ray Hesler was born in Schenectady, N.Y., on August 22, 1909, the son of John and Barbara Grussenmeyer Hesler. While he was still an infant, an epidemic of infantile paralysis carried off his two older siblings and left him permanently crippled. He studied in the public schools of the area and attended St. Joseph’s Academy in Schenectady for high school. At that point, he was able to enroll at St. Charles College in the fall of 1926 and graduate with the class of 1929. Though he had to wear special shoes, he still was able to participate in sports and hold his own in classes. Because of his German background, he soon earned the nickname of “Fritz” which stayed with him for the next seventy years — in spite of his protests to one of his later geometry classes that “we do not have nicknames at St. Charles.”
Ray and many of his classmates went on to St. Mary’s on Paca Street in the first year that the new St. Mary’s opened in Roland Park, Baltimore, Maryland. His courses finished with a B.A. in Philosophy behind his name. He went on to St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, Maryland in the first year that all four theology classes were together at the new seminary. He earned an S.T.B. in Theology in 1935. During his time he took part in the dedication of the Lourdes Grotto; this was an expression of the devotion to Our Lady that would always mark Ray Hesler’s life.
On June 15, 1935 Ray was ordained by Bishop Emmet Walsh in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany and celebrated his first solemn Mass on June 16, 1935 in the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Schenectady.
As a Sulpician candidate he was assigned to St. Charles College, which would be the only appointment he received in his 42 years as a Sulpician. During his first year (1935-1936) he made his Solitude at the Mansion on the grounds of the College, a year punctuated by a hospital stay for appendicitis. Once on the regular faculty, Ray taught geometry and other mathematics courses as well as German. He studied German at the University of Maryland in College Park and received his M.A. in German in 1943.
Father Gleason asked Ray to direct the choir and teach chant, a duty he accepted even though he knew other faculty members were better qualified. He directed the music for over 25 years. When Fr. John McCormick left for Seattle to become rector at St. Edward’s Seminary, Ray became the librarian even though the job involved a seemingly endless number of courses at The Catholic University of America’s summer school. He earned a B.S. in Library Science in 1952.
Over the years he put together small orchestral groups to play for various special events like the Rhet and Poet plays. For one year, when St. Charles College gave way to St. Mary’s Seminary College, Ray served as vice rector. For many years, too, he assisted at Our Lady of Victory parish nearby in response to the needs of his friend from seminary days, Fr. John B. Peacock. One summer the chaplain at the Oblate Sisters’ Motherhouse asked him to fill in for two weeks. When the chaplain did not return, Ray stayed on for fifteen years of devoted service; only by-pass surgery brought that duty to an end. He also served the Catholic Daughters of the Americas as chaplain for long years.
Ray Hesler had a deep and abiding love for his family. Even though they lived in far-off Schenectady and other more distant places, he made sure that he visited with all of them each year as well as having them visit with him in Baltimore. His last visit was in the summer of 2001 when he celebrated the jubilee of Sister Barbara Hesler, his Josephite sister in Latham, N.Y. So it was with the other four brothers and sisters.
By 1969 the high school population at St. Charles was so small that the high school was discontinued, and the senior college students at St. Mary’s on Paca Street were joined to the junior college at Catonsville to become St. Mary’s Seminary College. In those tumultuous days this arrangement lasted only eight years before the closing in 1977. At that point Ray’s forty- two years of teaching German and math came to an end, and he retired to St. Charles Villa for the last twenty-five years of his priestly life. Once he served as the Director of the Villa for a couple of years. In 1999 when the Villa underwent renovation for five months, he moved with six others of his confreres to live on the former novitiate corridor of the Motherhouse of the Oblate Sisters of Providence. But when he returned, it was to a different apartment and to different surroundings. All of this contributed to a gradually increasing feeling of sadness that marred his last years. Only in the final weeks of his life did we see him put aside the sadness, the loneliness, and the pains and to embrace a calm resignation to go joyfully into eternity to enjoy the reward waiting for him.
Family meant for him more than blood relatives. Fritz loved his fellow Sulpicians and made sure that they were able to celebrate special days like Our Lady’s Presentation with fitting music and ceremony. He loved the family of the alumni and looked forward to their visits back for reunions and alumni days, and many of them still recall his affection for them. He helped create a family among all those who served the community of St. Charles College: the sisters of Divine Providence, the secretaries, those who worked in the library, and especially those who take care of the residents of St. Charles Villa. There were many tears shed in the days after his death, especially among the Little Sisters of the Poor who were watching with him when he died and among the Oblate Sisters of Providence.
After his death he was waked at St. Martin’s Home and then was brought to Our Lady of the Angels Chapel at the Charlestown Retirement Community that had succeeded his beloved College. The celebrant of the funeral Mass on February 25 was a former student, Most Rev. W. Francis Malooly, Auxiliary Bishop of Baltimore. Archbishop Emeritus William D. Borders and 35 of his fellow priests concelebrated the Mass, with Fr. John W. Bowen, S.S., as homilist.
A goodly number of lay alumni took part in the Mass. The earthly remains of Fr. Ray Hesler were laid to rest in the Sulpician Cemetery among so many of the priests with whom he had served in his 66 years of priesthood. The singing of the old hymn, Ecce Quam bonum, seemed to sum up what his life was all about.
May Raymond F. Hesler, S.S. and all those with whom he worked know the joys of living with the Lord they served so well.