Father Jerald Thomas, a longtime fixture in Sonoma County's Catholic community, was a priest with a passion for music and motorcycles.

Thomas died of natural causes Feb. 8 at Nazareth House in San Rafael where he was living in retirement. He was 86.

Thomas spent his final 11 years as an active priest at St. Eugene's in Santa Rosa, ministering as a part-time associate pastor until 1998.

"I don't know a soul who wasn't delighted when he appeared," said Deirdre Frontzcak, a choir member at St. Eugene's.

When his sister-in-law, Sarah Thomas, was going through some of his things this week, she found a poem with a strange title: "My Long Time Love Affair."

"I was taken aback for a minute," said Thomas, 89. Her momentary shock was allayed as she found herself reading a love letter to motorcycles. "He had a Harley," she said.

Born in Oakland in 1926, Thomas attended Vallejo High School and the San Rafael Military Academy.

Thomas said her brother-in-law was a thoughtful man who loved German Shepherds and was "civic-minded." When she met him in 1943, he had just graduated from the military academy.

Offered a scholarship at West Point, the young Thomas was conflicted about pursuing a career in the military or the priesthood. Eventually, the priesthood won out.

After attending college and seminary, Thomas was ordained into the priesthood in 1956 for service in the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

During his first few years in ministry, he served as an associate pastor at Most Holy Redeemer in San Francisco, Holy Spirit in Fairfield and St. Apollinaris in Napa.

He became a part of the then newly-established Santa Rosa diocese in 1962, serving as an associate pastor at St. Peter's in Cloverdale, St. Elizabeth's in Guerneville and St. Francis in Sonoma.

In 1966 he was appointed pastor of St. Phillip's in Occidental, where Thomas noted he worked to get some of the roads paved in town. He subsequently served as the pastor of St. Peter's in Cloverdale and St. Joan of Arc's in Yountville.

He landed at St. Eugene's in 1987 where he became a great supporter of the choir. "He had an incredible love for the church's liturgy, and loved the service music," said Steven Angelucci, the choir director at St. Eugene's. Thomas traveled with the choir on two of its European tours in the late '80s and early '90s, serving as the chaplain. "He endeared himself to the choir," said Angelucci.

In retirement, Thomas continued to assist at St. Eugene's until his move in 2004 to Nazareth House.

Thomas had no immediate family survivors. He was preceded in death by his siblings, Francis D. Thomas and Robert J. Thomas. He is survived by numerous nieces and nephews.

A vigil service will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday and a funeral mass will be celebrated Friday at 11 a.m. at St. Eugene's Cathedral at 2323 Montgomery Drive. The mass will be followed by a reception at the Brinker Room of the Becker Center. Burial will take place at the Holy Cross Cemetery in St. Helena.

— Melody Karpinski