Obituary | Msgr. Jerome O. Sommer

Msgr. Sommer

A funeral Mass was celebrated Nov. 26 at St. Clement of Rome Church in Des Peres for Msgr. Jerome O. Sommer, a retired Army chaplain who was active serving others and pursuing his varied interests well into his 90s.

Msgr. Sommer, 97, died Nov. 18.

Born in St. Louis, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1940 by Archbishop John J. Glennon.

Msgr. Sommer later became a priest of the Diocese of Jefferson City, Mo., when that diocese was created. The St. Louis native attended St. Louis Preparatory and Kenrick Seminaries. Msgr. Sommer served briefly as associate pastor of the old St. Leo Parish in St. Louis. He was named chaplain at St. Mary's Hospital and as assistant pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Jefferson City in 1941.

Msgr. Sommer became a chaplain in the U.S. Army in 1945, serving 29 years in posts around the world. Later he was pastor of a parish in St. Robert, Mo.

In 1986, he retired to St. Louis, where he helped where needed. He kept an active, busy schedule. Earlier this year, for example, he accompanied Betty Tisdale, founder of Helping and Loving Orphans (HALO), in a visit to St. Louis. Tisdale was nicknamed "the Angel of Saigon" for her heroic efforts in saving 219 orphaned children in Vietnam when the war came to a close in 1975. Tisdale spoke to students at St. Louis University High School. Msgr. Sommer had officiated at Tisdale's wedding to an Army doctor at Fort Benning, Ga.

In 2009, Msgr. Sommer wrote an article in the Review about living at Regina Cleri, home for retired priests in Shrewsbury. Blessed with good health in his retirement years, he made himself available for priestly work in a variety of ways.

In an interview in the Review the next year about his role as a chaplain, he talked about the history he has lived through, especially military history. About half of his time as a chaplain was spent overseas in the Philippines, Japan, Hawaii, Germany, Korea, Turkey and Vietnam.

He cited the role troops played while he was in Georgia in the late 1960s after a hurricane hit coastal areas.

He compared the role of a chaplain to being a pastor of a parish.

Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he offered to go into the military chaplaincy. A year and a half later, his request was accepted. He was on a troop ship three days from the Philippines when the war came to a close. Later in 1945 he was sent to Japan, and the first Mass he celebrated there was in a bombed-out factory.

He served in Vietnam in 1967, the height of the war.

Msgr. Sommer was a seminary classmate of another former military chaplain, Father Emil Kapaun, who was killed while being held as a prisoner of war in Korea.He was active in promoting Father Kapaun's cause for beatification.

Msgr. Sommer recalled growing up in the Soulard neighborhood of south St. Louis. He remembered seeing Babe Ruth in 1922 playing against the St. Louis Browns.

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