By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun
5:43 PM EDT, June 14, 2012
Monsignor James Vincent Hobbs, former rector of the Basilica of the Assumption who during his tenure oversaw a two-year, $32 million restoration of the 200-year-old structure, died Monday of cardiac arrest at his Thurmont home.
He was 81.
James Vincent Hobbs was born and raised in Thurmont, where his father owned a grocery store and his mother was proprietor of a hardware store.
He attended Frederick County public schools as an elementary school student before entering St. Anthony's parochial school in Emmitsburg.
He began his studies for the priesthood when he entered the old St. Charles College, a Catonsville seminary, in 1945.
After graduating from St. Charles in 1951, he entered St. Mary's Seminary on Paca Street for studies in philosophy. In 1953, he continued his studies for the priesthood at St. Mary's Seminary & University in Roland Park.
He was ordained a priest in 1957 by Archbishop Francis P. Keough in the Basilica of the Assumption.
Monsignor Hobbs was appointed assistant pastor of St. Mary Roman Catholic Church in Cumberland, where he remained until 1972, when he was assigned as pastor of St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church in Brooklyn.
Returning from a two-year medical leave, Monsignor Hobbs became associate pastor in 1980 of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, and four years later was named its administrator.
In 1992, he was appointed rector of the Basilica of the Assumption by Cardinal William H. Keeler, and four years later, Pope John Paul II named him monsignor.
Other honors included being named a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre in 1998.
"His death came as a great surprise," said Michael J. Ruck Sr., a longtime communicant of the Basilica of the Assumption and chair of the Basilica Historic Trust. "He was a gentle man who was most committed to his church."
Robert J. Lancelotta Jr. had worked closely with Monsignor Hobbs for 13 years, and later was executive vice president of the nonprofit Basilica Historic Trust.
"He was the most compassionate person I've ever met in my life. He was always very cognizant of the people around him," said Mr. Lancelotta, who is now executive director of the nonprofit Westminster Ingleside Foundation in Washington.
"When people needing help came to the door, no matter the hour, he opened it and tried to effect a situation in order to help them out," he said.
"Even if it was in the middle of the night, he always took the time to see what they needed and what he could do," said Mr. Lancelotta. "That's where his heart was — taking care of people. He was a fantastic man."
During his tenure at the basilica, Monsignor Hobbs entertained Pope John Paul II at a luncheon during his 1995 visit to Baltimore, as well as Mother Teresa, who came to the city the next year.
Perhaps one of Monsignor Hobbs' greatest challenges was overseeing the two-year restoration of the historic building, whose formal name is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Known as the first Roman Catholic cathedral in the country, it was designed by architect Benjamin Latrobe, whose works also include the Capitol in Washington. Construction of the building at Cathedral and Mulberry streets began in 1806 and was completed in 1821.
In 2001, a delegation from the basilica, including Cardinal Keeler and members of the Basilica Historic Trust, visited Pope John Paul II at the Vatican to present him with an architect's rendering.
"Monsignor Hobbs had made the arrangements for us to visit the Holy Father, and then 9/11 happened. Our original delegation was about 100 people, but after 9/11, people were afraid to travel and didn't know what might happen next," recalled Mr. Lancelotta.
"I think there was about a dozen who went," he said. "It really was a neat event."
"Monsignor Hobbs was very level-headed, and whatever came up during the restoration — and there were surprises — he handled it," said Mr. Ruck. "When you're dealing with a 200-year-old building, there will be surprises."
The restored basilica was reopened to communicants and visitors Nov. 4, 2006.
"They never expected anything like this," Monsignor Hobbs told The Baltimore Sun at the time, speaking of the 400 families, "from every ZIP code" of the archdiocese, who make up the parish.
"I've enjoyed every moment of my ministry," he told The Catholic Review when he announced that he would retire Feb. 1, 2008.
Reflecting on his career at the time of his retirement, Monsignor Hobbs told The Catholic Review, "Knowing that you can bring Christ into the lives of other people is wonderful. It's been a precious gift."
Monsignor Hobbs left Baltimore and moved to a home he owned in Thurmont.
"He loved vacationing in Ocean City," said a niece, Teresa Baker, who lives in Jefferson, Frederick County. "He was an Orioles and Ravens fan, and had a knack for interior decorating."
A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Saturday in the chapel of the Immaculate Conception at Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg.
Also surviving are two sisters, Mary Jo Williardof Thurmont and Ann M. Kot of Davidsonville; and many other nieces and nephews.
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