Dyer, Father Edward

1925, November 3

Date of Birth: 1854, April 4

February 15, 1926

Fathers and Very Dear in Our Lord:

We have expressed some deep-felt and fitting regret on the death of Father Dyer, Provincial Superior of our houses in the United States. This regret was well deserved. This confrere, by his office, represented the highest authority after ours. He did better. By his long service, by his dedication – both courageous and patient – he made our work prosper. It was a consolation to him, especially in his last years, to see it come out of its hard testing stronger than ever by reason of increasing numbers more than sufficient for all its ongoing tasks. We must number him among those who “get the job done.” and we firmly believe that our predecessors, especially Father Emery who established our American foundation, have made him welcome in Paradise as a good worker when nothing discouraged him from effort, even when human hopes seemed to desert him. He had a great soul, devout, deeply religious, artless and childlike in his faith, sincere and practical in his piety. It was permeated with this idea: that those for whom he was working have – rather than some bent for getting along in the everyday world – a feeling of being at home in the supernatural life; and that what needed to be drilled into his seminarians was that they must be total priests, meditating priests, deeply spiritual minded, constant in prayer, disciplined in their private lives. What was good in their nature he accepted, and nothing pleased him more than the enthusiasm, the zeal, the ingenuity of doers.

But in his upbringing – in his family, in the seminary, in the Sulpicians – he had received the impression that mere busy-ness is a disease, that it wears one out, causes trouble and dissipation; and that, on the contrary, for the lasting effect of action, there must be an underpinning of silence, reflection, and unending crying out to God. Those who knew him best, who lived under him and in close contact with him, could from time to time run up against what they were tempted to call deviousness, egocentricity, stubbornness. But all acknowledged his good will and the efficacy of his administration. He was not violent nor capricious, but he was headstrong in the manner of a good number of workers in the Church and in the clergy, who have some fixed ideas to which they cling, even at the cost of some run-ins with those who disagree with them.

This critique takes nothing away from the esteem we have for him. On the contrary, they are at the root of it, and they make it possible for us to state once more that in God’s plan for the souls of the just, some defects are inevitable and perhaps even contribute to their benefit. The foregoing is only a preface to what is left for me to tell you about the various assignments of our confrere.

Father Edward Dyer was born on April 4, 1854, in Washington of one of the old and good Catholic families of Southern Maryland, families very strongly marked with the imprint of religion. Through distant lineage he went back to England. His father was a doctor, first in Washington, then later – in 1868 – he opted for a practice in the country. It was in the country that our confrere lived out the first years of his life that he could remember, that he made his First Communion, that he received Confirmation from Archbishop Kenrick of Baltimore.

From those years in the country he always retained a lively taste for rural living and a particular empathy for priests who were assigned to country parishes. How often were those who felt this to be encouraged, advised, and helped!  To lift their spirits he recited for them this line of poetry brimming with nostalgia and regret: O fortunatos nimium, sua si bona agricolas!  [O too blessed, if their own good things nourish farmers!]

After five or six years the Dyer family returned to Washington. Our confrere, who was fifteen years old and who had to face up to some financial distress in his family (distress which interrupted his going on in school), took a job in a novelty store.

Along with his religious practices, however, he kept up a huge appetite for reading and knowledge. He was worried that this was somewhat foolish because it was all so haphazard. It was now that he needed guidance. He found it in a zealous priest who later became Bishop of Richmond, first rector of the Catholic University in Washington, Archbishop of Dubuque. It was Archbishop Keane, the choice of Providence for young Edward Dyer. From the closeness of the relationship there was on the part of the Master moral authority on the part of the disciple, filial confidence. Out of their relationship there was a priestly vocation which grew and took its impetus under the inspiration of one who was only a simple assistant at St. Patrick’s in Washington. Along with many other reasons for our gratitude, Archbishop Keane had that of giving us our confrere. At the age of seventeen he entered this minor seminary of St. Charles. There he showed himself what he was always thereafter: a man of duty, serious minded, an intense worker – as one of his teachers said – a philosopher before his time. His favorite teachers were the ones who were the hardest workers and the most exemplary, and it was like them that he intended to lead his own life.

From St. Charles he advanced to Philosophy at St. Mary’s Seminary. There he exhibited a passion which became lifelong; a rare passion for ideal order; a persistent passion which, even in his last months at Royat, nourished his spirit and caused him to attract some allies and also some opponents. It was a passion for logic – something which brings sense to everything provided that it is carried out as it should be with an understanding of its consequences and an awareness of the real world. He made it his guiding star.

Already the call to St. Sulpice had made itself heard in his soul’s depths. It meant for him an ideal and a desire for an apostolate particularly useful for the benefit of his country for which he always strove to send out better and more idealistic priests.

He came to Paris to study Theology. There he underwent the trial of separation from his native land in a place whose language he did not speak and where he was involved in various studies which baffled his precise but somewhat slow mind. He overcame all the difficulties. His seminary courses over, he resolutely entered the Solitude to give himself to St. Sulpice. He was ordained priest on December 18, 1880 by Bishop Richard, then Coadjutor to Archbishop Guibert.

In October 1881, he left for the Procure in Rome, and he pursued his studies at the Minerva. At the end of two years he was a Doctor of Theology. He would have liked to stay longer to take a doctorate in Canon Law but Baltimore’s urgent needs brought him back there in 1884. At first, he was Treasurer, a job which he successfully filled. In 1884-85, Father Magnien, the Superior, appointed him to take the Moral course in place of Father Dissez who had returned to France for reasons of health. When Father Dissez came back, it was possible to give Father Dyer his much-desired course of Philosophy where he finally got to that logic which for so long had been his fondest wish. He was happy and he made some of his students happy, students who adopted his outlook. Among them were some cherished recruits, notable Father Fenlon, to whom Providence destined the role of walking in the footsteps of the master and – quite recently – of succeeding him. Father Dyer taught Philosophy up to 1896, but each year brought to him some new responsibilities – in the seminary, that of bursar, and outside the seminary, at the request of Cardinal Gibbons, that of Secretary of the Negro and Indian Missions.

In 1896 came the opening of the Sulpician seminary in New York. Father Dyer, first named as the right-hand man of Father Rex, soon – by reason of the premature death of Father Rex – had to take charge as Superior. Without reservation Archbishop Corrigan gave him his trust, as did the clergy and the seminarians. A lasting success was looked for, but death struck down Baltimore’s Superior, Father Magnien. The Superior of St. Sulpice in Paris, Father Lebas, in September 1902, appointed Father Dyer to Baltimore to assure to that important place a sure and traditional direction in conformity with the original work of St. Sulpice in the United States. Out of that appointment came a real hardship for Father Dyer and disarray for those left behind in New York. The disarray caused first by the departure of a beloved superior, then made worse by news of persecution being undergone in France, brought about the resignation of four confreres, then the recall to Baltimore of the remaining loyal confreres [actually only Father Bruneau]. The New York project, full of hope in its beginnings and satisfactory in its early results, was lost to the Society. We cannot blame the Archbishop or the clergy or the seminarians, but only the weakness and the desertion of men who were our own but who betrayed their duty at a time of trial. That brings us to January 14, 1906. The forced surrender imposed on Father Dyer was one of the great sorrows of his life. But his strength of soul enabled him to bear it when it happened and allowed him to lend courage to the confreres.

Other trials were in the wings, namely, the withdrawal from Boston in 1910, and then the destruction of St. Charles College by fire. That same strength of character resurfaced in our confrere and in all those who were under his vigorous leadership. He arranged for the college to restart its functioning almost completely after some days of not being able to operate. It was reopened in the neighborhood of Cloud Cap near Baltimore. After the reopening he busied himself with its rebuilding in such wise that the new structure is one of the finest educational plants in America. It is large enough to hold nearly four hundred students, and the enrollment will grow when all the improvements have been completed.

At the same time, the work of the major seminary of St. Mary’s in Baltimore was going on, and there was starting up in Washington a new Sulpician seminary which already numbered a hundred Theology students. The work was progressing as desired; it had the approval, the consent, and the very effective backing of the new ordinary, Archbishop Curley, who told me himself on one of his visits to Paris that he intended to make the seminary his first priority and to guarantee for it, far from crowded and over busy areas, a building which would do honor to his diocese. Father Dyer will see from the heights of Heaven the longed-for results of his labor, results in which he will recognize the stamp of divine action and also a benefit to seminarians and priests.

He was well known in France where he was privileged to sit in the Assembly of Assistants and to receive appointment as Vicar General in 1902. Later, after pontifical approval of the Constitutions in 1921, he was named Provincial Superior of our houses in the United States.

In the 1922 Charter, we felt that there was a noticeable decline in his health. That condition kept worsening. He seemed to be acting in a different way. His goodness, which had always been respected for its sincerity, became more relaxed and appealing. The whitening dawn of eternity made his smile more paternal and his visage more pleasant. Smile and visage – those who knew him well will never forget their lovely impact.

After that, Father Dyer was ill for a long time. He had the happy notion at the last vacation period to come to the waters of Royat to seek a rejuvenation of health. It did not work out. On his return to Baltimore, after a renewal of contact with his community, it took only a few days for a complete relapse. On the advice of the doctors he was taken to the hospital operated by the Sisters of Bon Secours.

One evening, November 3rd, he had a rather serious attack. Another priest, also a patient, aroused by the nurse, had time to hasten to him and give him Extreme Unction, during which he breathed his last. The body was brought back to the seminary the next day, and on November 7th the funeral was held. Archbishop Curley consented to sing Pontifical Mass and it was attended by six bishops and more than four hundred priests from all parts of the country. Many others, unable to attend, sent messages of condolence. For the deceased the words of Scripture ring true: Beati qui erudiunt multos ad justitiam, fulgebunt ouasi stellae in perpetuas aeternitates [Blessed they that instruct many to justice; they shall shine as stars for all eternity].

I recommend Father Dyer to your prayers, and I renew to you the expression of my very devoted sentiments in Our Lord.

H. Garriguet

Superior of St. Sulpice