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Archdiocesan Priest, Rev. George J. Dyer, Dies

Rev. Dyer was Pastor Emeritus of St. Patrick Church, Wadsworth

Chicago, IL (December 13, 2017) – Rev. George J. Dyer died at Condell Hospital, Libertyville, on December 3, 2017. Rev. Dyer was the Pastor Emeritus of St. Patrick Church in Wadsworth. He served on the faculty of the University of St. Mary of the Lake / Mundelein Seminary and was an editor and author for the theological journal, “Chicago Studies.” He celebrated his 90th birthday last month.

Rev. Dyer was born in Chicago on November 3, 1927. He attended Our Lady of Sorrows      School and Quigley Preparatory Seminary in Chicago. Rev. Dyer went on to the University of St. Mary of the Lake / Mundelein Seminary earning a Doctorate in Sacred Theology in 1955. He was ordained into the priesthood on May 1, 1953 by Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago, and celebrated his first Solemn Mass at St. Anne Parish in Barrington on May 3, 1953.

Rev. Dyer served the Archdiocese in a number of ways, spending the first half of his priesthood at the University of St. Mary of the Lake / Mundelein Seminary as a librarian and a lecturer in Patristics, and later as dean and professor of Theology. After priesthood ordination, while a student and professor at the University of St. Mary of the Lake / Mundelein Seminary, Rev. Dyer used to celebrate Mass at St. Gilbert Parish in Grayslake (1953-55), Santa Maria del Popolo Parish in Mundelein (1955-63) and Transfiguration Parish in Wauconda (1964-66). In 1966, Rev. Dyer was named assistant pastor at St. Martin Parish on South Princeton Street (the parish closed in 1981) and a year later he was appointed dean of Studies at the School of Theology at the University of St. Mary of the Lake / Mundelein Seminary, a position he served in until 1978, when he was also named pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Wadsworth (1978-95).

During his first years serving the people of Wadsworth, Rev. Dyer foresaw a need for a larger church given the explosion of new housing in the 1980s. The forecast proved to be true as St. Patrick’s grew from 350 families to 2,400 over a decade.

“He was the shepherd who knew his sheep, taking Polaroid snapshots of couples preparing for marriage or entrance into the Catholic Church, posting them around his study until faces and names were firmly established in his memory. He was the kindly priest visited by school children at recess who wanted to play with his huge, but gentle, Newfoundland. He was the confessor known for understanding, compassion, and availability, no matter what time someone rang the doorbell.” That is how Sr. Agnes Cunningham, SSCM, described Rev. Dyer in her article, George J. Dyer: What’s Past is Prologue, published in “Chicago Studies” in 2009 (Vol. 48:1).

Rev. Dyer taught courses in Patristics and Ancient Christian Literature to many students during his tenure as a professor at the University of St. Mary of the Lake / Mundelein Seminary. Rev. William Zavaski, pastor emeritus of St. James Church in Arlington Heights, was one of his students but remembers vividly “his significant pastoral work. He was deeply devoted to the people,” said Rev. Zavaski.

Despite Rev. Dyer’s retirement in 1995, Rev. Leon J. Rezula, pastor emeritus of St. Julian Eymard Church in Elk Grove Village, recalls that Rev. Dyer served for another 16 years as a weekend presider at St. Julian Eymard and continued to minister to the retirement community of Sedgebrook, Lincolnshire Illinois, until his health declined.

“He embodied the spirit of the Second Vatican Council,” said Rev. Dr. Leo D. Lefebure, a Matteo Ricci, S.J., professor of Theology at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Rev. Dr. Lefebure was a student at the University of St. Mary of the Lake / Mundelein Seminary from 1974 to 1978 while Rev. Dyer was dean, and he additionally served later as Rev. Dyer’s successor as editor of the publication, “Chicago Studies.”

According to Rev. Dr. Lefebure, “as dean of Studies, he made crucial decisions in shaping the staff and curriculum of the seminary. For example, he repeatedly asked Sr. Agnes Cunningham, SSCM, to teach at the seminary. She repeatedly refused him because she was already teaching in Urbana, Ill. Undeterred, George sent Sr. Agnes her teaching schedule, conveniently arranged so that she could fly from Urbana to Chicago each week on Thursday, teach on Friday and Saturday, and return to Urbana for the remainder of the week. Sr. Agnes was persuaded by George’s persistence, and they became lifelong collaborators. Together they had a tremendous influence on theological education in the United States.” 

A Patristic scholar, theologian and educator, Rev. Dyer left the following publications as his legacy to the Archdiocese and to the world:

  • “Chicago Studies” – Rev. Dyer was the founding editor of “Chicago Studies,” a journal of pastoral theology published by the faculty of the University of Saint Mary of the Lake.  The journal was founded in the early 1960s with the intention of sharing the news of the Vatican Council, and Rev. Dyer remained on the editorial board most of those years. The theological journal published significant articles from a number of the theologians of Vatican II and other internationally recognized experts. The journal is now a peer-reviewed open access journal for priests, deacons and lay ecclesial ministers.
  • “The Denial of Limbo and the Jansenist Controversy” – Rev. Dyer’s dissertation
  • “Limbo: Unsettled Question”

Rev. Dyer’s contribution to theological reflection was recognized by the Catholic Theological Society of America in 1982 when the Society awarded him its highest honor, the John Courtney Murray Award.

“I met Father Dyer when I matriculated to Mundelein Seminary in the fall of 1976,” said the Very Rev. Thomas A. Baima, vice rector for Academic Affairs and Rev. Dyer’s seventh successor as dean. “He was serving as dean of the Graduate School of Theology and as a professor of theology. His was the first theology course I took: It was enlightening!” 

Rev. Baima remembers Rev. Dyer as “the most inquisitive man I have ever met. He was a true intellectual, in the sense that he was fascinated by learning, especially when learning related to the pastoral ministry.” The theologian, dean and educator was also a very kind man, always focused on people, added Rev. Baima. “He was fully and devotedly a parish priest.  But his intellectual life continued as did his theological contribution.” 

This is how the Archdiocese of Chicago will remember Rev. Dyer:

“If you’re looking for George Dyer, these days, keep your eyes open for someone wearing the tell-tale Greek sailor’s cap, strolling walks and lanes in the company of his current canine companion, a small, white bichon frisé who answers to the name of “Woodie.” They’ll both welcome you heartily!” – Sr. Agnes Cunningham (“Chicago Studies” 2009, Vol. 48:1)

The Funeral Mass will take place on Saturday, December 16, 2017 at 10 a.m. at St. Patrick Church, 15000 W. Wadsworth Road in Wadsworth, Ill.

Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago, will preside at the Funeral Mass while Bishop George J. Rassas will concelebrate. Interment will take place at All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines.  

Rev. Dyer is survived by his brother-in-law, two nieces, a nephew, and several grand- and great-grand nieces and nephews.