Maher, Father Daniel
1906, May 25
Date of Birth: 1858, December 8
August 14, 1906
Fathers and Very Dear in Our Lord:
The Boston seminary, open fewer than twenty-one years, recently lost, in the person of Father Maher, its third superior; and it might have been supposed that he would be the one to give it its definitive character. At the least, he would in many ways have stamped on it the mark of his regularizing mind and left it to his successor to finish the job already far advanced by his own effort.
Father Daniel Edward Maher was born in Blairsville, Pennsylvania, on December 8, 1858. His parents – originally from Ireland but married in the United States – gave their new homeland a large and Christian family, half of whom dedicated themselves to God’s service; three of our confrere’s sisters became Sisters of Charity.
Young Daniel received a good, practical education in several Catholic schools, and at the age of fifteen or sixteen he secured a good job in the office of the Pennsylvania Railroad, known in the United States for its excellent management. He turned over to his mother all that he earned; and on Sundays helped his pastor in conducting a Sunday School in which he was soon right-hand man. At nineteen, he began to give Latin lessons in his spare time; and at twenty-one he entered St. Charles College, and five years later, St. Mary’s Seminary. After two years of Philosophy, he was employed as a teacher at St. Charles during the year 1886/87. Convinced from then on of his Sulpician vocation, he came to study Theology at Paris (1887-90). Ordained priest there, he went to spend two years at the Procure in Rome – where he took a Doctorate in Philosophy – and at length came back to finish his preparation by a year of Solitude. He was especially marked by exemplary conduct and great maturity of mind. Father Magnien said of him that early that he could be appointed then and there as head of a seminary.
On his return to America in the vacation period of 1893, he was named Professor of Philosophy at Boston; and without giving up that teaching post, he soon after became superior of the little Philosophy community. Three years later he was called to the same jobs – Professor and Superior of Philosophy – at Baltimore, jobs much larger than those at Boston. When, in 1901, Father Hogan’s death had left open the superiorship of Boston, Father Maher was appointed to it, and he kept the title up to his death; although from November, 1905, afflicted by an obscure illness which had long troubled him, he was forced to turn over to other hands the work to which he had dedicated himself so bravely and fruitfully.
It was in the running of the Boston seminary that Father Maher especially showed the great qualities of his mind, his heart, and his character, applying them to a work more extensive and more difficult than that he had so happily engaged in in the two seminaries of Philosophy.
Under a quite cold appearance he had, as the constancy and fervor of his striving after good indicated, a warm spirit. For the young men he had a heart generous, devout, and truly fatherly; there was never any doubt of that up to the end. But he had some very clear ideas about the importance of discipline in a major seminary, a very strong determination to maintain it, and the gift of enforcing it without recourse to any underhanded spying. In the respect and regard that could not be denied him, a certain fear was mixed in, abetted, perhaps, by a kind of stiffness which came from his temperament, from his education, and doubtless, too, from the latent illness whose seeds he bore within himself. One of the greatest sacrifices he made was bound to be that of a kind of popularity which he would have been able to acquire at the price of a softer and more lenient attitude. In time, however, he was better understood; and affection increased without his yielding on his principles: in one of his last chats with one of his confreres, he expressed his pleasure in thinking that the family spirit might henceforth prevail in the seminary without discipline being negatively affected.
As regards intellectuality, Father Maher was especially remarkable for the clarity, the precision, and the solidity of his mind. He was an excellent teacher, and that praise is the first word which his memory often provokes in his old students. The same qualities were evident in his spiritual readings. When he devoted those readings to the explanation of the rule – which he presented in a contemporary mode – he took great care to show the eminently reasonable character of each of its articles and its harmony with the order and the spirit of the house as well as with the personal formation of the seminarians. When he went on to the rules of Christian and priestly living, he so methodically drew them from theological principles that it was hoped that before long he might publish a brochure on Christian and Priestly Life and Virtues; for these instructions seemed to constitute an outline for such a work. In developing these topics, he worked hard to bring everything into harmony with the present state of things and attitudes; he was fearful of compromising the authority of his teaching if he clothed it in the garments of another age. He was deeply imbued with the spirit of St. Sulpice, but he had so much made it his own that he knew how to express it in a thoroughly modern vocabulary.
A series of spiritual readings much appreciated by the students when he introduced it at the Boston seminary two years before his death was that which he devoted to Catechetics. He showed himself in this matter to be thoroughly cognizant of the Sulpician Method, and at the same time to be full of respect for that method whose importance and beauty he made clear with an enthusiasm which carried over into his hearers. In the vibrancy of his speaking might be heard, no doubt, an echo of memories from his youth when, by his zeal as catechist, he anticipated – though still a layman – the works of his vocation.
Father Maher’s work at Boston was not limited to the establishment of a discipline more exact and more firm than that which had prevailed before him; nor to the feeling communicated to the young men about the benefit they might draw for their spiritual and intellectual formation from that better order, from that more profound quiet; nor in their growing willingness to work hard through a sense of duty and faith. The fact is that, from all evidence, he introduced into the seminary some important improvements.
In providing a good schedule, he gave a renewed motivation for study. He reorganized the Homiletics classes on a more practical plan; he put at the disposal of the students a very roomy library well supplied for their needs. He also revised, for the benefit of the teachers, some very wise precepts, having in mind that their teaching be essentially that of the Church but known to take into account all worthwhile opinions in the Church and known to be attempting to give to each opinion its just theological expression. Father Maher knew how to combine scope and exactness; and the harmony of these two qualities was from all reports a trait characteristic of his mind and his performance.
As for works, he strongly encouraged an association formed in the seminary by the diocesan head of the Propagation of the Faith. It held monthly meetings intended to initiate the seminarians into the spirit and works of zeal which they were one day to exercise in the parishes, to widen this eminently Catholic work and make it flourish.
Also introduced into the Brighton seminary by Father Maher was the Camillus Society. Started in the Baltimore seminary, this was a society whose object was to have seminarians visit the sick in the hospitals of the city; the seminarians freely devoted themselves to this care of the sick and gave up part of their free time to do so.
Let us add finally that, not content to live fully himself in the spirit and traditions of St. Sulpice and by them constantly inspired himself in his ministry, he had deeply reflected on the general needs of the work of St. Sulpice in the United States. His views were strongly appreciated at Paris when, a few years ago, he came here with Father Dyer when there was worked out the special Constitution given to American Sulpicians by setting up a General Vicariate [for them].
Father Maher’s health was always delicate, and his application to work submitted it to numerous trials. Even in vacations he did not give himself the necessary rest. So it happened that in 1889 his chest began to give him serious trouble. This first threat was able to be taken care of by stays in Colorado in the vacation period of that year and the two following years.
It was in 1904 that he began to suffer from such headaches that he contemplated retiring from the superiorship of the seminary as soon as a successor could be found. Last November the advance of the illness made itself evident by loss of speech, and the doctors said that a year’s rest and especially a change of scene would be absolutely necessary. Father Maher first tried some stays in the country, but when his situation worsened, he went to St. Agnes Hospital [in Baltimore] which he did not thereafter leave. His suffering became acute, and the doctors decided that the cause of his illness was a brain abscess which they hoped to treat and cure through trepanning. Father Maher was prepared [before the operation] by the administration of the last sacraments, received from Father Dyer’s hands. The operation gave him relief by lessening the pressure on the brain, but it did not uncover the cause of the illness. Only after his death did the autopsy show that the cause was a deep tumor which would have been impossible to remove without ending the life of the patient. Freed from violent pain, Father Maher for some weeks recovered a little of the use of speech; but when the paralysis which had begun to spread in his right side got worse, he was soon undergoing nothing but severe pain. In that state he went to Mass every day in surplice and stole and received Holy Communion. Though overcome by fatigue on certain days, he never consented to give up Mass and Communion, and continued also to make his daily visit to the Blessed Sacrament.
The doctors holding on to a slim hope that a second operation might uncover the seat of the disease and not believing it otherwise dangerous, they decided to perform it on Ascension Day. An hour before the operation, Father Maher once again received the sacraments and made a visit to the chapel. He died the next day, May 25th, at four in the morning without recovering consciousness.
On Saturday, the 26th, after the body was brought to the Baltimore seminary, a solemn Mass was celebrated there by Father Boyer in the presence of a large gathering of priests presided over by His Eminence, Cardinal Gibbons, and by his Auxiliary, Bishop Curtis, who gave the absolution. The funeral (properly so called) took place in Boston on Tuesday, May 29th. The Mass was sung by Father Dyer in the seminary chapel. The venerable Archbishop Williams gave the absolution. Around him were present his Co-Adjutor, Bishop O’Connell, Bishop Tierney of Hartford, Bishop Delany of Manchester – fellow student of Father Maher – who was soon to follow him to the grave. Montreal seminary was represented by Father Lecoq. About three hundred priests were there in spite of bad weather. A sermon was preached by the Rector of the Boston Cathedral, Father Maher’s former fellow student at Paris. Finally, the remains of our confrere were laid in a cemetery opened for him on the grounds of the seminary for whose development he had worked so hard.
Let us hope that his merits and those of his predecessors, buried not far from their field of labor, may protect their common endeavor; and let us further it by the prayers which we shall continue to offer for them.
I renew to you, Fathers and dear confreres, the expression of my very devoted sentiments in Our Lord.
Superior of St. Sulpice