Dukehart, Father J. Cyril

1960, July 16

Date of Birth: 1905, November 3

December 25, 1960

My dear Confreres:

Our confrere, Father John Cyril Dukehart, has been, to everyone’s distress, carried off by a heart attack on July 16, 1960, while he was taking a vacation in Ocean City in the company of his relatives.

It was on November 3, 1905, that he saw the light of day in Baltimore, where his family lived. He first attended school in St. Gregory’s parish (the parochial school) from 1911 to 1920. He made his secondary studies at St. Charles College, and entered St. Mary’s Seminary in 1926.

Subdeacon on September 6, 1931, deacon at the end of the same year, he received priestly ordination on June 14, 1932 at the hands of Bishop John McNamara.

Wishing to dedicate his life to the training of priests, he entered the Sulpician Solitude. At the opening of the 1933 school year he was assigned to teach English and Christian Doctrine at St. Edward’s minor seminary in Seattle.

The years 1935 to 1939 saw him as Prefect of Discipline and teacher of History at St. Charles College in Catonsville. Noticed by his superiors by reason of his impressiveness and his qualities, he became Superior of St. Edward’s minor seminary which, five years earlier, he had left as a mere teacher. He filled the office with competence for nearly seventeen years, and he saw a threefold increase in the number of students. After a short period as President of St. Charles, we find him in 1958 in Washington in the new role of Secretary of the National Catholic Educational Association, which, up to his death, he was to fill to everyone’s satisfaction.

Archbishop Keough celebrated a Requiem Mass in the chapel of St. Charles College, where the memory of the deceased remained alive always. It was Father Paul Cronin,* Prefect of Studies at St. Joseph’s College in San Francisco, who preached the eulogy from which we extract the main points.

Father Dukehart was a priest who had, with humility, a constant devotion to his duties of state. His jobs, however, were never easy, for he long held posts in which he had to show authority, undergo pressures more or less strong, and direct the machinery of administration. He acted with a mild firmness and in a good humor which allowed him easy access to hearts. He was recently entrusted with the running of the house which served as living quarters for the priests of the National Catholic Educational Association, and he was known there for the care he took of his fellow-workers and for the spirit of charity which made for easy getting-along together. In the discussion of community problems, he showed himself to be always up-to-date because beforehand he took care to line things up in a no-nonsense way. He never spoke in a dogmatic or dictatorial voice. After giving his counsel, he listened to that of the others, always ready to give up his own opinion if he judged it the right thing to do.

What was beneath this attitude took its roots in his deep devotion to the priesthood, a devotion which manifested itself in several ways. Two aspects especially characterized it. 

*Father Girard’s error. It was actually Father John Cronin (Father Paul’s brother) who preached the eulogy.


The first was his insistence and his constancy in visiting the place where the young candidate for the minor seminary lived. That was because he did not consider the future student as an abstraction who was to be judged only on the signs given through study or through discipline. He tried, above all, to measure the main facets of his personality, and he thought it could only be done in experiencing the family. By this procedure, which involved many inconveniences, he learned what this or that was due to the faith of the parents or grandparents, of friends or relatives. Anyone is always more or less marked by his environment.

His second preoccupation was to see, over the years, the seminary system become better. He hoped for a level of studies approaching, as close as possible, that of the universities. He valued the worth of institutions more than their enrollments. The priest, he said, is an ambassador of Christ, and he must do honor, by his knowledge and moral qualities, to Him Whom he represents. He went so far as to explain his ideas in a pamphlet, Catholic Seminaries, U.S.A. The purpose of the seminary, he wrote, is “to teach candidates for the priesthood what the priest must know, and to make of the same candidate what the priest must be.” This can be accomplished only by solid teaching, by the example of the teachers, by direct contact of the soul with God by means of prayer and the reception of the sacraments – more efficacious even than discipline itself.

The twofold aspect of Father Dukehart’s character seemed to some a living paradox. On the one hand, one saw in our confrere a top-notch organizer. In two short years he made himself extremely knowledgeable on the progress of seminaries. He drew up plans and projects for regional meetings wherein school – and college administrators – could exchange views in order to obtain a better and ever-increasing understanding. On the other hand, Father Dukehart remained that priest of the humble and simple faith he had derived from his family and, later, from contact with those admirable apostles such as Fathers Gleason, Dwyer, Bruneau, Boyer, not to mention others.

He knew that he was only the instrument of God and that he could do nothing without the help of grace. His students and his co-workers who, in spite of his reserve, had penetrated his soul admired him greatly. They will remember him.

The eloquent sincerity of his life was his best preparation for death. As a matter of fact, he had no premonition of his end being near. But he had long since been ready to heed the last call of his Eternal Priest. However, as St. Augustine reminds us, even the holiest of souls may retain some traces of human frailty.

Let us pray then for the soul of dear Father Dukehart and that God may also grant His consolation to his bereaved family.

We tell you again, dear confreres, of our sentiments of paternal affection in Our Lord and Our Lady.

Pierre Girard

Superior General of the Society of St. Sulpice