An Unexpected and Unusual Ordination of a Priest
by J. CHRISTIAN ADAMS
January 31, 2012
Father Rich Dyer, his father and mother at his ordination. Photo: Stacy Rausch, lovetocreate.net.
This is a true story about Rich Dyer, a Virginia man who never expected to become a priest, but became one sooner than he expected. Dyer, 48, left behind a successful career in business after hearing a calling to the priesthood.
Some of you don't believe in miracles, and others are certain they exist. But, this is a story for the multitudes who still wonder. C.S. Lewis, in Surprised by Joy, his autobiography of his journey from atheism to faith said, "You may take any number of wrong turnings; but keep your eyes open and you will not be allowed to go very far before the warning signs appear."
Naturally, it would be easy if bushes regularly burned and spoke, erasing all doubt. But revelations so cheap and easy, dispense with human freewill. How difficult would moral choices be when faith has no role? If the answers were so obvious, goodness and grace would not be human choices, but rather servile obedience to a revealed omnipotent.
Instead of miracles, many have experienced a weighty and unmistakable synchronicity, where seemingly impossible events occur. Answered prayers fall into this category. But so do smaller revelations, joyous moments when blessings reveal themselves in hindsight, blessings that once seemed ordinary, or even dreadful. Those who have experienced this weighty synchronicity know there is no such thing as a coincidence.
C.S. Lewis described moments of revelations as being "surprised by joy." Sometimes they are as gentle as an unseen sparrow's song that reminds you spring has arrived. Other times, they are as bold and unforgettable as a grand pastel sunset.
Last December, the unusual ordination of Father Rich Dyer took place in Virginia.
For those unfamiliar with the Catholic priesthood, a brief aside. Holy orders, when a priest is ordained, is one of the seven Catholic sacraments. Seminarians study for years before being ordained. Beyond study, seminarians seek to discern whether they are truly called to the priesthood. After they complete their studies, conclude that they are committed to the vocation, and are called to orders by their local bishop, priests are ordained by the bishop of the diocese. In the Diocese of Arlington (Virginia), this occurs in June of each year in a celebratory mass. Canon law vests the bishop with authority to alter the date of the ordination, but use of this power is not common.
In the summer of 2011, Rich Dyer learned that his father was sick with cancer. His fellow seminarians asked him if he considered asking Bishop Paul Loverde for special permission to be ordained early.
The week before his December finals at Mt. St. Mary's Seminary in Maryland, Dyer had his regular meeting with a representative of Bishop Loverde. He wondered if anyone had ever been ordained ahead of schedule. He wrote to Bishop Loverde: "I seek God’s will. I do not know what His will is regarding the date of my priestly ordination, but I know and trust that He speaks through you. I am not asking that you accelerate my ordination date, only that you prayerfully discern God’s will regarding it and then communicate this will to me."
It appeared to Dyer, and anybody else, that a December ordination was impossible, and January was unlikely because the bishop would be in Rome. An early ordination, if it were to occur, could only be in February.
Then on Tuesday, December 20, Dyer received a telephone call. The bishop had read and considered the letter. Dyer was given the choice to be ordained as regularly scheduled on June 9, 2012, or, if Dyer wished to be ordained earlier, the Bishop was available ... the following Tuesday, December 27.
Being the feast of St. John the Apostle, December 27, was a special day to Dyer. For years, his computer's screen saver had a quote from St. John - "Perfect love drives out fear" (1 John 4:18).Dyer did not come to the priesthood the traditional way. He obtained a degree in electrical engineering from Notre Dame, and joined the Air Force on graduation. After the Air Force, he returned to Notre Dame and received a masters degree in business. He went on to a successful career as an executive with an independent power producer in Virginia before hearing a calling to become a priest. "I had a great life, but I knew I was called to the priesthood, even if sometimes I didn't want to do it," Dyer told me by telephone.
Bishop Loverde ordained Dyer as a priest in a ceremony at St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Clifton, Virginia on December 27. His father Richard Dyer was at the ordination.
The next day, December 28, Dyer celebrated his first mass at St. Andrews, a mass which began at 11:00 a.m. His father, meanwhile, was with two family friends miles away. As Father Dyer said mass, the two friends taking care of his father noticed the elder Dyer's breathing became heavy and labored. They adjusted him in the bed and "he became alert," Father Dyer told me.
The family friends reported Richard Dyer "seemed to be looking at things all around the room, his eyes moving all around," looking at things that nobody else could see. While the friends then prayed aloud around Richard Dyer, and his son continued celebrating mass miles away, the elder Dyer hushed their prayers. "I'm trying to listen to it," he told them.
The friends continued their prayers in silence before one of them came to the elder Dyer’s bedside, held his hand, and prayed that the Holy Spirit come and take the elder Dyer home. The friend’s eyelids began to flutter uncontrollably, his body began to shake, and he became very warm as he felt something like an energy pass through him to the elder Dyer. The elder Dyer’s face became very peaceful as he looked to the ceiling and asked for his wife before saying, "I have to go now," Richard Dyer said, and then died. The elder Dyer died at 12:05 pm just as his eldest son finished celebrating his first Mass.
Not far away, the son of the friends watching the elder Dyer was playing outside. This now-healthy child had been cured of a rare form of cancer. Richard Dyer had prayed for just such a cure for the boy. Looking up at a break in the clouds, at the rays of the sun, the boy said aloud to his companions, "I think Mr. Dyer just went to the Lord."
It is beyond our capability to say with certainty what these events mean. But one thing is certain, these events occurred. They occurred not on the pages of a dusty storybook, or in a fable passed through generations. They occurred in Virginia, just a few weeks ago.
Some will reflexively suggest worldly explanations. They will afford no possibility other than the laws of science, and random chance when those laws prove inadequate. Others, like the "mouse chasing the cat," have experienced the awe of stumbling into a new understanding, of unintentionally running into the cat.
Next June, the Bishop of Arlington will assign Father Dyer to a parish somewhere in Northern Virginia. Father Dyer didn't expect to find himself where he is now, or will be next June. "I'm rather shy," he told me. For people who wonder, who question whether something guides our course, perhaps there is something in the contemporary story of one shy, already successful, 48 year old man becoming a priest, and how it happened.
J. Christian Adams is an election law attorney and was formerly with the Department of Justice Voting Section. He resigned after the Justice Department dropped already won voter intimidation charges against the New Black Panther Party. His website is www.electionlawcenter.com.