Dyer, Father Paul

1949, September 30

Date of Birth: 1894, February 23

October 21, 1949

Fathers and Dear Confreres:

In the very early days of October we received the following letter, dated September 30th, from Father Lloyd P. McDonald, Provincial Superior of St. Sulpice in the United States:

“After a very long illness, Father Paul Dyer died today. It was clear for some months that he was suffering from cancer. For several weeks we have been expecting his death. …”

This news deeply saddened those of us who knew Father Paul Dyer. I want you to share our grief. To help you to pray for the intentions of the dear deceased, I want to give you an idea of his life and his work in the United States. A life very often hidden, but always very devoted and very fruitful.

Paul Leo Dyer was born in Leominster, Massachusetts on February 23, 1894. His parents, especially his mother, carefully watched over his education when he was a child. That education surely had its effect: it was based on loyalty, on a sense of duty, and on solid faith. So, we judge by the fruits, it carried into the career, steady and strict, which our confrere engaged in.

When he was old enough to do so, his parents saw to it that he attended the schools of Leominster. After that he took business courses. He worked for several years in a commercial firm. But the thought of priesthood kept coming to him in the midst of occupations scarcely conducive to such a thought. It kept recurring. Far from rejecting it, he dwelt on it, got used to it, and opened his heart to a priest in whom he had confidence. Together with that priest, he decided that it would be the light of his life, and that to it he would dedicate everything he had, everything.

So, in 1916, Father Dyer gave up his business career, and entered the minor seminary of St. Charles at Catonsville, and again took up study with the priesthood in mind. It is probable that this change of direction had its price. But he made nothing of it, and successfully stuck to the job he had voluntarily taken on. At St. Charles his vocation to priesthood came into better focus. He asked to be accepted as an aspirant to the Society of St. Sulpice. Permission was granted. After his Philosophy, which he made at St. Mary’s Seminary, Paca Street, Baltimore, he was sent in 1921 to the Sulpician Seminary in Washington, next to The Catholic University of America. There he did all his Theology. On February 24, 1925, during his last year in the seminary, he was ordained priest by His Excellency, Bishop Russell of Charleston. With his seminary days behind him, he did his Solitude near the minor seminary of St. Charles in 1925-1926.

There he was at the well-spring of our work. What functions were going to be confided to him in the houses of the Society of St. Sulpice?  His business studies, the positions he had held before entering the seminary, the test that had been made of his abilities for business matters in his last seminary year (when at the beginning of that year he was still a deacon) by entrusting the Treasurer’s job to him – all seemed to point to involvement in administration, the importance of which was not underestimated in our seminaries. That was why Father Fenlon, Provincial Superior, appointed Father Dyer as Treasurer of St. Charles College. That job, while very time-consuming, did not suffice for Father Dyer’s zeal. To his administrivia concerns he joined the teaching of English, History, and Bookkeeping, to say nothing, of course, of his spiritual ministry. At the beginning of 1929, and up to 1938, along with the Treasurer’s Office at the minor seminary, he took on the job of the St. Charles Procure [Bursar’s job].

He had all his jobs under control, he was filling them to everyone’s satisfaction, with competence, with expertise, and – what did not hurt – with an ease which showed beyond the shadow of a doubt that Father Dyer was “the right man in the right place.” But it would be a mistake to think that Father Dyer’s life was unfolding in imperturbable euphoria. In spite of the remarkable facility with which he busied himself in office work, the clarity and precision he brought to it, the justness he strove to put in it, Father Dyer knew more than one trial, especially in his health which, in spite of deceptive appearances, was never very robust. The writer of these lines remembers that it was Bon Secours Hospital in Baltimore – where he was a patient – that the Sulpician Visitor to the United States had to go to meet for the first time the Treasurer and Bursar of St. Charles, Father Dyer. He must add that both during that first chat and also during the visitation meetings in 1932 and 1938, he was vividly struck by Father Dyer’s clarity of mind and his mastery of administration. Father Dyer’s expertise was demonstrated both in the preliminary discussions and in the presentation of decisions which had to be taken.

After the two visitations of which we have just spoken, Father Dyer’s responsibilities were again increased. The venerated Father Boyer, Provincial Treasurer, was called to God. Father Dyer, who had been his assistant, was called on to succeed him. This was, especially during the war, as well as afterwards, a heavy charge. In order to be in the best possible situation to do it, Father Dyer left St. Charles and moved into the Philosophy Division of St. Mary’s Seminary on Paca Street in Baltimore. There, from 1940 to 1944, he combined his administrative functions with those of Spiritual Director.

In all the appointments which were entrusted to him, Father Dyer served the Society with unmatched competence and with devotion which knew no let-up. His work in financial matters was as difficult as it was important, considering the intertwining organization of our American houses.

For him the title of Provincial Treasurer was not an empty one. Indeed not!  But his confreres had complete confidence in him. Father Dyer gained the respect of the business men with whom he dealt.

The general esteem he enjoyed was a powerful prop for Father Dyer. But it cannot be said that that prop took the place for him of the joy he might have felt had he been free to give himself to such classroom work as takes place in our seminaries, minor and major. Our confrere, Father Robert E. Aycock, has thrown into powerful relief the austere side of the life which Father Dyer had consented to involve himself in for the good of the Societey of St. Sulpice in the United States. To remain always on the provincial level; to accept without complaint the sacrifices of a life in administration; to work, certainly to work, but anonymously, in a work hidden from the eyes of the majority; to be engaged in all kinds of details with heavy responsibilities about which, practically speaking, one cannot seek advice; not to see clearly either the boundaries of the field in which one works or the rippling effect which may follow (and certainly will follow) from the choices one makes and the decisions one takes; not to know the happiness of spirits sparked, of minds enriched, of boys and young men taught what one knows, what one can clarify for them, what one sees developing little by little as one judges men and things, and in what way may be of help the lessons that one has the duty of giving them. There, all summed up, are the burdens of the office which Father Dyer agreed to fill, and which he undertook in all simplicity, without thinking he was making an heroic sacrifice. There, all summed up, too, the joys he agreed to deprive himself of after experiencing them in the early years of his Sulpician ministry.

But there was another part of his ministry that he never gave up. It made up for much of the regretted parts: spiritual direction.

It can be said that Father Dyer exercised it when he was Spiritual Director of the Philosophy Department of St. Mary’s Seminary. It fulfilled him and he was happy so. The seminarians felt drawn to him. He enjoyed their confidence. By his simple and paternal attitude, he caused them to open their souls and come closer to the Church and to God. They sensed in him a true priest of Jesus Christ, a prop for their weakness, a counselor for their inexperience, and a friend whose friendship never waned. By reason of his administrative functions, he had to visit the houses of the Society. These visits put him in contact with the confreres in various seminaries. They, too, in all their functionings – but especially in the spiritual order – gave him their confidence. Out of this, there was for Father Dyer a voluminous correspondence which he kept up to date and which frequently gave him the opportunity of exercising the priestly apostolate for which every Sulpician feels himself equipped.

The priests of the diocese of the city of Baltimore shared the same confidence as the seminarians and confreres whether Father Dyer was living at old St. Mary’s or had settled, as he was at the end of his life, at the new Roland Park seminary. “He was particularly happy,” remarks our confrere, Father Robert E. Aycock, “to receive visits from the local clergy, happy that the priests came to kneel at his prie-dieu; and more than once he recalled the distant days when, as a young philosophy student, he saw the members of the clergy who came to the rooms of Father Boyer, Father Viéban, or Father Levatois. He took his place in their midst and he held his rank with them indeed by the love he had for such a ministry and by the very fatherly role he was filling.”

Briefly, to sum up, there remains only to quote the words of Father Lloyd P. McDonald, Provincial Superior of the United States: “He was a true Sulpician through his love for the priesthood and through his affection for the seminarians entrusted to his care. His devotedness to his penitents was stamped with the coin of an informed spiritual prudence. Priests who had been under his direction as seminarians kept their affection for him and held him in high esteem.”

You can well imagine that such a confrere was a real treasure for the American province and for the whole Society. However, it was foreseen that the eminent service he was rendering to us would hardly go on for long. For the last three years of his life, one had the impression that he was running down. From the beginning of 1949, he had to have long stays in the hospital. On July 27th he went back there, and it turned out to be the point of no return. The hospital was that of St. Agnes, run by the Sisters of Charity. Located not far from St. Charles College, Father Dyer was taken care of there with perfect devotion. Up to the end he was allowed to have visits from his confreres. He calmly gave his soul to God last September 30th.

His funeral was held in the chapel of St. Charles with a large crowd of priests and laity in attendance.

His Grace, Archbishop Francis P. Keough of Baltimore, sang the Pontifical Mass and gave the absolution. After that, Father Dyer’s body was buried in the little Sulpician cemetery at St. Charles, near confreres whom he had known and loved.

We ask his dear mother to accept our prayerful condolences, and we promise her to pray for her and her son, who has preceded her to God.

Please accept, Fathers and dear confreres, the expression of my fraternal affection in Our Lord.

P. Boisard

Superior General of the Society of St. Sulpice