Father A. Henry Kunkel III, the beloved longtime pastor of St. Mary in Pylesville who led his rural church with a “family-centered” approach, died Sept. 18 at WellSpan York Hospital in Pennsylvania. The native of Peru was 79 and had been battling a number of ailments, including skin and prostate cancer.
Father Kunkel, ordained in 1970, was one of the longest-serving priests in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, guiding his Harford County parish for nearly three decades.
“As far as I’m concerned, he is a candidate for sainthood,” said Deacon Phil Seneschal, who has served with Father Kunkel for the past 15 years at St. Mary. “He was just a happy priest and beloved by everyone in the community. He was a priest who was grateful to bring Christ to his parishioners both in the Eucharist and in his person.
“He was probably the most loved guy I’ve ever been around,” Deacon Seneschal said. “There are kids in this parish who grew up and don’t know anyone else as a pastor. He was your uncle first and then, when you got older, your brother. He was just a member of everyone’s family. What a great shepherd.”
Father Kunkel oversaw a $1.5 million renovation of the St. Mary parish center in 2009.
At St. Mary, Father Kunkel was involved in everything from jousting tournaments to chicken dinners and outreach programs that included a food pantry and 20 active ministries.
At a Mass in 2010 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Father Kunkel’s ordination, the priest was praised for his “loving” spirit and his “living witness to the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.” The anniversary Mass coincided with the dedication of a new parish center.
In a 2010 Catholic Review article on Father Kunkel’s milestone, longtime parishioner Vida Hedrick said at the time, “I love it here. It’s such a friendly church. I love [Father Kunkel]; he’s just lovely.” Parishioner Susie Oursler added: “It’s a wonderful, very small-town rural family parish. It’s family-centered, it’s uncomplicated and devoted.”
In May 2020, the parish held a car paraded due to the pandemic to celebrate Father Kunkel’s 50th ordination anniversary. Nearly 80 cars were driven to the event, and Father Kunkel’s anniversary was again celebrated with a Mass, which included Archbishop William E. Lori, on May 23, 2021.
Father Kunkel celebrated his first Mass at St. Athanasius in Curtis Bay in 1970, where he also was a transitional deacon from 1969 to 1970. His first parish assignment was at St. Lawrence Martyr in Woodlawn from 1971 to 1975. In November 1975, Father Kunkel became chaplain for Franklin Square Medical Center and part-time assistant at Our Lady Queen of Peace in Middle River.
In June 1983, Father Kunkel became pastor of St. Augustine in Elkridge, a position he held for 10 years. In June 1993, he was appointed pastor of St. Mary in Pylesville, a position that he held until his death.
Father Kunkel was born in Lima, Peru, Feb. 5, 1943. He attended elementary school in Peru and high school in Port Chester, N.Y., and Annapolis.
He attended the University of Maryland, St. Charles College Seminary and St. Mary’s Seminary, Roland Park. Father Kunkel received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and was ordained to the priesthood May 16, 1970, at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore.
In the summer months prior to his ordination, Father Kunkel served as a missionary in hospitals and prisons in Peru where he also taught and worked in social work.
A sister, Karen Ahlstrom, and her husband, Richard, of Baltimore County, survive Father Kunkel.
Funeral arrangements are as follows, all taking place at St. Mary Parish, 1021 St. Mary’s Road, Pylesville, Md., 21132:
Saturday, Sept. 24Viewing and visitation from 5-7 p.m., concluding with the Divine Mercy ChapletLocation: St. Mary’s Parish Hall
Sunday, Sept. 25Viewing and visitation from 9 a.m.-noon, concluding with the RosaryViewing and Visitation from 3-6 p.m., concluding with the Vigil serviceLocation: St. Mary’s Parish Hall
Monday, Sept. 26Mass of Christian Burial at 11 a.m. – Archbishop William Lori, celebrant and homilistLocation: St. Mary’s ChurchInterment following in St. Mary’s Cemetery
This story was updated Oct. 19 with the correct site for St. Lawrence.
Email Gerry Jackson at [email protected]
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