Father Edward M. Aigner Jr., a priest of the Diocese of Wilmington for nearly 51 years, died April 1. He was 78.
Born in Camden, N.J., Father Aigner attended Catholic schools there and in Aston, Pa., before graduating from St. James High School in Chester, Pa. He was ordained for the Diocese of Wilmington on May 6, 1972, at St. Elizabeth Church.
As an associate pastor, he served at St. John the Baptist-Holy Angels, Newark, and Ss. Peter and Paul, Easton, Md. From 1977-82, he was the chaplain at Saint Mark’s High School in Wilmington.
He moved to the Eastern Shore of Maryland in 1982 and was there the rest of his life. His first pastorate was at Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Pocomoke City, Md., from 1982-90, and in 1998 he became pastor at St. Francis de Sales, Salisbury, Md., where he remained until his retirement in 2014. He continued to live in Salisbury after his retirement.
He told The Dialog in 2003 that a pastor is popular “until he has to say no. That’s a fundamental reason to include laity in decision-making. It helps us create a parish of one, to share information, deepen understanding, encourage cooperation.”
Father Aigner took on several roles beyond pastor while on the Eastern Shore. He was appointed chaplain of the Eastern Correctional Institution in Westover, Md., in 1990, and was later chaplain of Chesapeake College and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. He also was associate director of vocations; director of the Emmaus Program for Priests; board member for the National Organization for the Continuing Education of the Roman Catholic Clergy; and a member of the boards of Catholic Youth Organization, the diocesan board of education, the diocesan Liturgical Commission, and the Priests Senate.
He continued his prison ministry after his retirement and told The Dialog in 2003 that he learned humility and patience as a chaplain at Eastern Correctional Institute.
“There was no pretense, no class distinction,” he said. “I had an attendance of one at the first Mass I celebrated. Then there were two; eventually, I would gather 30 or 40 from the hundreds of men incarcerated there.”
He was known for his love of riding his bicycle around the Eastern Shore. In a column in The Dialog in 2000, he wrote about taking part in the Seagull Century annual bike ride, which was either 66 or 100 miles “of mostly flat land, a bike rider’s dream, at least for me and my aging back and tentative knees.”
Father Aigner mixed a sense of humor into his message, whether in his homilies, the parish bulletin or in a column for The Dialog during the covid pandemic. In May 2020, he wrote about practicing the faith virtually while churches were closed at the outset of the coronavirus. Some parishes offered drive-through Communion or heard confessions through car windows from six feet away. He said he listened to a lecture that said absolution was valid from up to 50 feet away, “a tidbit I must have missed in seminary classes.”
He recalled watching online Masses that ended with the priest saying, “Go in peace,” “to which I dutifully respond, perhaps a little too loudly, ‘GO WHERE?’”
Father Aigner is survived by his sisters, Donna (James) Fleming and Loretta “Chickie” Aigner, his niece, Aileen (Joseph) Vanore and nephew, Mark (Karen) Fleming. He is also survived by his grandnieces, Alexis, Ashley, Addison, Josephine and Kathryn.
A viewing will be held at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church on Thursday, April 13, from 5-7 p.m., and on Friday, April 14, from noon-1 p.m. The Mass of Christian Burial will be held at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church on Friday, April 14 at 1 p.m. Father will be interred at St. Joseph Church, Cordova, Md.; burial will be private. The funeral Mass will be livestreamed at www.visitstfrancis.org
In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to Cross Catholic Outreach. Donations can be made online to honor Fr. Aigner at: www.crosscatholic.org/outreach