In the past several months, new priest Father Richard Dyer has experienced deeply the highs and lows of the Christian life.
In late December, he was ordained a priest six months early for the Diocese of Arlington, Va., by Bishop Paul Loverde to fulfill his dying father’s wish to be present at his ordination.
After seeing his son become a priest, Father Dyer’s father, Richard Dyer Sr., passed away the following day — at almost the same time his son finished celebrating his first Mass.
“Even amongst the sadness, there’s so much grace being poured out on me, my dad and my family,” Father Dyer said. “We do have our moments of sadness and deep sadness, of course, on the natural level, but because of our faith, we turn to Christ in hope of the Resurrection.”
As Father Dyer and his family continue to grieve, he is back at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., as both priest and seminarian, finishing his final coursework this spring semester with his classmates.
His ordination is the latest chapter in a vocation story that has involved his whole family, especially his dad.
Father Dyer grew up in Germany, Georgia and other locations that Richard Dyer Sr.’s job as an Air Force colonel took the family. After college, Father Dyer asked his father to commission him for four years of Air Force service.
He worked at a power plant, where he moved up to vice president. “It really was a nice career, but, in that process, I was discovering I had this burning desire for something more — and that emptiness that I felt can only be fulfilled in Christ,” he said.
Father Dyer started attending St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Clifton, Va. While participating in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults with his brother-in-law, who was preparing for confirmation, he convinced his mother (a Catholic) and father (who wasn’t Catholic) to attend, too. “Monday Night Football was on. I’m sure Dad didn’t want to go. But that Easter , he entered the Church.”
As his faith grew, Father Dyer wondered if he was called to the priesthood. After a lot of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament and novenas to St. Thérèse of Lisieux, he applied to the seminary.
At age 43, he didn’t doubt his call, but his ability to be a priest. “I thought, I’m going to seminary, but there’s no way I’ll end up being a priest,” he said. “He just wants me to grow in holiness, and, eventually, I’ll come out, and I’ll get married.”
But he came to see that God truly wanted him to be a priest.
A year before Father Dyer’s scheduled ordination, he learned that his father had stage-4 kidney cancer. By fall, doctors gave Richard Dyer Sr. a 50% chance of living until the June 2012 ordination.
“He was doing everything to focus on June,” Father Dyer said. “That was really a concern to him at the end: just to be able to make it to my ordination.”
In December, Father Dyer explained the situation to Bishop Loverde in a letter and asked him to pray to know God’s will about ordaining him early.
The bishop responded by saying he would ordain Father Dyer on Dec. 27.
“When Father Dyer first wrote to me about his father’s failing health, his humility and servant’s heart were very clear,” said Bishop Loverde. “He asked me to discern God’s will as to whether he should be ordained now, and I set to prayer and consultation to decide the correct path. At the end of this process, I was led to be absolutely convinced that it was right and fitting to ordain Father Dyer to the priesthood this past December.
“I believe the ultimate unfolding of events reveals this to be a concrete example of God’s loving care for us and may inspire us all to pray regularly, ‘Give me, O Lord, a discerning heart.’”
The bishop’s decision is extremely unusual for the Arlington Diocese and reveals the bishop’s love for priests, said Father Brian Bashista, diocesan vocations director. “It was a beautiful accommodation, and many graces have flown from it,” he said. “It’s very rare, and, as the circumstances unfolded, it was just a beautiful way the bishop gave him consideration.”
Father Bashista added, “There was no doubt in my mind that he was ready to take the step.”
When he received the bishop’s response, Father Dyer had just a week to prepare — including learning how to say Mass because he hadn’t taken the Mass practicum class.
But the timing, and the details, were perfect, he said. For one thing, Father Dyer was ordained on the feast of St. John the Evangelist, from whose epistle he had posted a verse on his computer’s screensaver.
The ordination took place at St. Andrew the Apostle, where Father Dyer experienced conversion and Richard Dyer Sr. entered the Church.
During the ordination, he sat next to his dad’s wheelchair. “I’m so glad that happened, because, during the liturgy, I just reached out and held my dad’s hand,” he said. “He was very sick but aware of what was going on.”
After the ordination, which was attended by many priests and seminarians, the new priest gave his father a blessing. “Something told me to do it then and not to wait until later,” he said.
Richard Dyer Sr. couldn’t attend Father Dyer’s Mass of thanksgiving the next day, but just before he died, he told those caring for him that he was trying to listen. “It was almost as if they said that he was really concentrating,” Father Dyer said. “He was trying to be present at the Mass. He was perhaps receiving some grace to be there in a mysterious way.”
The following week, Father Dyer presided at his first funeral Mass — his father’s.
Father Dyer now celebrates daily Mass at the seminary but won’t be able to hear confessions until he finishes his courses in June. “It’s a strange in-between person that I am,” he said. “I’m 100% priest, but I’m still a seminarian, and these are my brothers.”
Through his grief, Father Dyer said God has given him joy in becoming a priest — which had been his father’s hope.
“I can honestly say I was happy before, but there was emptiness,” he said. “Now I’m really happy beyond measure. It’s incredible the transformation the Lord has done in my life through this process.”
Susan Klemond writes from St. Paul, Minnesota.