The Rev. Richard G. Miller, a priest at a succession of churches in the Catholic Diocese of Toledo who became a leading local practitioner of the Devotion of Mercy, died Monday at the Little Sisters of the Poor in Oregon at age 83.
Father Miller died of complications from pneumonia, which he contracted while recovering from a hip fracture he suffered in December said Joe Kibler, a longtime friend.
Raised in a large family in Lima, Ohio, Father Miller demonstrated strong religious passion at a young age and entered seminary after high school. He was ordained in Toledo in 1950, four years after completing bachelor's studies at St. Meinrad School of Theology's Minor and Major Seminary.
He was an assistant pastor at five churches in the diocese before being promoted to pastor at SS. Peter and Paul in Toledo in 1967.
He moved on to St. Caspar in Wauseon in 1973, then to St. James in Toledo three years later, and finally to St. Agnes parish in Toledo in 1984.
It was at St. Agnes that Father Miller's confrontation with a sixth-grader in the parish school made national headlines.
The priest declared that Sarabeth Eason would not be allowed to enroll in the sixth grade there unless she renounced pro-abortion beliefs.
Sarabeth's mother, Concepcion Eason, had been assistant director of the Center for Choice, a Toledo abortion clinic outside which Father Miller participated in weekly protests.
"He was very involved in the pro-life movement," Mr. Kibler said. "He read the Rosary every Friday in front of the Center for Choice, and he was often spit on."
What wasn't publicized, Mr. Kibler said, was that beyond her public position on abortion, the girl had been handing out leaflets in the school.
Father Miller didn't mention that in a letter to Sarabeth's mother "to protect the girl," Mr. Kibler said.
Father Kibler was a very compassionate man who often took in homeless people, the friend said, and was slow to evict tenants from property he owned in central Toledo even if they fell many months behind on their rent.
During the 1990s, he was the first priest in Toledo to celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday, one week after Easter, to recognize a devotion that began with a Polish nun's vision of Jesus during the 1930s.
"This devotion, the Divine Mercy, it's peaceful and integrating," Father Miller said shortly before his retirement in 1997.
"It's the Common Cause of prayer. No matter where you stand in the Catholic church, you can participate in this without a problem.
"Everybody needs some mercy."
When not in church, Father Miller often could be found walking or bicycling in local parks, and he also gardened and tended a brother's fruit trees.
During his residence at Little Sisters of the Poor, Mr. Kibler said, he helped with landscaping there and also raised strawberries.
"He was never a person to be still," the friend said. "He kept himself busy and liked getting his hands dirty."
Father Miller also frequently sat to hear confessions, Mr. Kibler said. It was while opening a confessional door that he lost his balance and fell on his hip in December, Mr. Kibler said.
Father Miller is survived by his sisters, Gertrude "Trudy" Schrantz and Julia Leobaka.
Visitation will be at 1 p.m. tomorrow at Little Sisters of the Poor, followed at 4 p.m. by Reception of the Body and Vespers at Holy Rosary Cathedral.
Visitation will resume at 11 a.m. in the cathedral, followed at 1 p.m. by a Funeral Mass. The Sujkowski Funeral Home Northpointe handled arrangements.
The family suggests tributes to the Little Sisters of the Poor.