Dwyer, Father William

1960, March 10

Date of Birth: 1895, August 5

May 10, 1961

My dear Confreres:

Last year our American confreres lost one of their own. The following lines, sent by Father McDonald, bring to mind the memory of one who was a true priest of St. Sulpice through his attachment to the service of future priests and through his interior life:

“Father William F. Dwyer was born in Hartford, Connecticut on August 5, 1895, of Thomas and Elizabeth Martin Dwyer.

“First a student in the Cathedral’s parish school, he later entered Hartford College where he stayed until he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1912. Then he studied at Hartford’s St. Thomas Seminary and after that, for Philosophy and Theology, at St. Mary’s Seminary. On January 11, 1920, Bishop John Nilan ordained him priest in St. Joseph’s Cathedral.

“His first assignment brought him to St. Rose’s parish in New Haven. He stayed there three years. Though he showed himself dutiful and felt happy there, he was all the while secretly wishing to dedicate himself to the training of young clerics in seminaries. Prompted by this wish, he sought admission to the Society of St. Sulpice, entered the 1923 Solitude. The following year he received his appointment to St. Charles College in Catonsville where, with the exception of two years spent in securing a doctorate in Philosophy, he was to pass his whole life.

“If we want to picture this humble, erudite, and distinguished Sulpician, let us envision him as a Christian humanist. Actually, he had worked through the immense field of classical knowledge. Though he preferred Latin, he felt very much at ease in the teaching of Greek. There he showed himself just as he was: modest, unruffled, and avoiding all that might seem too original or bizarre. These classes also proved very profitable for his students, who always acknowledged to him a deep gratitude for his clear, practical, and solid teaching.

“A zealous and always approachable priest, he threw himself into his job as teacher and director of souls from his appointment to St. Charles up to the time of his death. In 1941 he became Vice-superior of the college, and four years later he became Dean of Studies. His life was then overburdened by this piling up of duties which he knew how to face up to and which involved serious fatigue, put up with his usual staunchness. Strength, however, has its limits, and Father Dwyer’s health showed some deterioration – to such a point that in 1950 something had to be done. Father gave up both his offices and restricted himself to being a teacher and a director.

“It can be said of the venerated Father that he was, so to speak, identified with the college. His devotion to the work and to the students was limitless. Seminary work meant everything to him, and the thirty-seven years he spent at St. Charles seemed to go by like a single day. So much did he experience joy in working for the priesthood in the holy house of the Lord.

“Apart from his family he was hardly known in the lay world, for he hid himself away in his duties of state. The duties were done without fail, so much did he take care to give himself unreservedly to the seminarians and to his confreres who sought his advice or needed his help. So it was that he did not stint in his devoted care of Father Brown when the latter fell ill. In several instances, he showed heroic virtue in agreeing to give very onerous services to those who asked them of him. He then exhausted time and effort, and only God knows to what extent he sacrificed himself.

“For his diocese he kept an unshadowed loyalty and for his family a bottomless affection which we have no right to plumb. The presence at his [funeral] Mass of two archbishops, both originally from Connecticut –Archbishops Keough and O’Brien – the presence of many dignitaries and priests, clearly shows the high esteem enjoyed by dear Father Dwyer.

“Father Dwyer was ready for death long before it came. It came silently and ruthlessly, as always, on the night of March 9/10, 1960, but with no tragic overtones. We are persuaded to think that our confrere prayed that God take him in that way. He uttered no memorable sentence, left no last advice, as the dying sometimes do. His last wish was certainly that we would be mindful of him in prayer.”

May it be in our hearts to fulfill that wish and may we strive to imitate Father Dwyer’s faithfulness and prudence.

I beg you to believe, my dear confreres, in my sentiments of affectionate devotion in Our Lord.

Pierre Girard

Superior General of the Society of St. Sulpice