Dukehart, Father Claude Henry, P.S.S.

2016, September 14

Date of Birth: 1917, August 16

“As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age.” (Gen 15:15). These words which Yahweh spoke to Abram could well be spoken to Fr. Dukehart, who enjoyed the benefits of God’s grace for seventy-three years as a priest and ninety-nine years of life. When he died, he was the second oldest Sulpician in the world.

Claude Henry Dukehart was born on August 16, 1917 in Baltimore, MD to John and Rose (Huesman) Dukehart. He was one of nine children: John Cyril (who was also a Sulpician), Paul, Edward, John, Charles, Mary (Musser), Betty (Quinn) and Joseph, who survives him.

Fr. Dukehart was ordained for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, MD on June 8, 1943. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy from St. Mary’s Seminary on Paca Street in Baltimore in 1939. He went on to do his theological studies at St. Mary’s Seminary, Roland Park, where he earned his S.T.B. in 1941 and the S.T.L. in 1943. He then completed the M.A. degree in philosophy at The Catholic University of America in 1947, and then his S.T.D. in dogmatic theology in 1950.

As a Sulpician candidate, he served for two years (1943-1945) on the high school faculty of St. Charles College in Catonsville, MD where he taught Latin, French, and religion. After completing Solitude (1945-1946), he was admitted to the Society of St. Sulpice in 1946. After completing graduate studies at The Catholic University of America, he returned to St. Mary’s Seminary and University, Roland Park, to teach dogmatic theology, canon law, and Greek (1949 – 1960). He then went to teach dogmatic theology at St. John’s Seminary, Plymouth, MI (1960 – 1967) and at St. Thomas Seminary, Kenmore, WA (1967 - 1968).

After the close of the Second Vatican Council and with the new directions unfolding in theology, Fr. Dukehart retired from teaching to become chaplain for the Veterans Administration Hospitals, first in Martinez, CA (1968 – 1969), then in Long Island, NY (1969 – 1980) and lastly in Phoenix, AZ (1980 – 1987). After retiring from the chaplaincy in 1987, Fr. Dukehart continued to reside in Phoenix where he loved to play golf. He finally moved to St. Charles Villa in 1995 and remained there for twenty-one years until his death in 2016.

Fr. Dukehart loved to follow professional sports, especially golf, football, and baseball. As his eyesight faded while in retirement, he had to give up playing golf and even watching it on TV. Though his eyesight failed him, his hearing did not. He was able to follow the Orioles baseball team and the various Baltimore football teams by listening to the games since he could not watch them.

In his retirement community at the Villa, Fr. Dukehart loved to join his confreres for daily “vespers,” – evening gin with cheese and crackers before dinner. Though he had to cope with losing his eyesight as he aged, he refused to surrender his memory. He was sharp to the end with his recollection of past experiences, names, and sports memorabilia. With that he brought vitality to the retirement community and its gatherings with his stories and his always ready sense of humor. When asked on his ninety-fifth birthday if he had anything to say about his life, he chuckled, “If I had known that I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.”

As his health started to fail, he thought it was time to quit smoking. After so many years, he realized that cigarettes are not good for you and could shorten your life. Imagine that. Living as long as he did, Fr Dukehart saw many of his peers pass on to death. He did not seem to fear death, even as it approached as a slow-moving train lumbering down the tracks into the station after a long run. And at ninety-nine, as they would say in the theater, “Harry had a good run.”

Fr. Dukehart died on September 14, 2016 at St. Charles Villa, Catonsville, MD. The Mass of Resurrection was celebrated on September 19, 2016 in Our Lady of the Angels chapel with the Provincial, John C. Kemper, P.S.S. as celebrant and homilist. Burial followed in the Sulpician Cemetery, Catonsville, MD.

The psalmist once prayed, “Do not cast me off in time of old age. Do not forsake me when my strength fails” (Ps 71:9). Fr. Dukehart could well make this his prayer, too, as he enjoyed ninety-nine years of life. He did indeed live with the sense of God’s care for him to the very end. His gracious spirit will remain his lasting witness to God’s enduring love in old age.

Richard M. Gula, P.S.S.

Director of Personnel