The mountain & the monstrance

Sept. 21-27,2006
The mountain & the monstrance
By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
Syracuse Diocese says goodbye to Father Dwyer

Wednesday, Sept. 13, the Syracuse Diocese said farewell to its oldest priest when the Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated for Father William Dwyer at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Utica. When he passed away Sept. 11, Father Dwyer, at 97, was the oldest priest in the diocese. Around 70 attendees, including both lay people and religious, were at the funeral, which was concelebrated by over 30 priests with Bishop Thomas Costello presiding.

Father Don Karlen, pastor of St. Patrick’s Church in Forestport, St. Joseph’s in Boonville and St. Mary of the Snows Mission in Otter Lake, delivered the homily. “Brothers in ministry and friends, we come to this mountain, this altar, to say thank you for the ministry of Father William Dwyer,” Father Karlen said. The image of the mountain reverberated throughout Father Karlen’s homily. A native of Utica, Father Dwyer attended elementary school at St. Agnes-St. John. He completed his secondary education at Assumption Academy. After graduation from high school, he attended Manhattan College before continuing his studies at Mt. St. Mary Seminary.

Father Dwyer was ordained June 11, 1936.
His first assignment in the Syracuse Diocese was to serve as assistant pastor in St. John’s Church in Rome, starting June 17, 1938. Just over three months later he went on to serve as assistant at St. Mary’s Church in Binghamton.

In 1943, he served with the U.S. Navy as a lieutenant stationed at William and Mary University in Williamsburg, Va., before returning to become the chaplain at Syracuse State School in 1946. In 1950 he was made the temporary administrator at St. Patrick’s Church in Jordan and, in 1950, was appointed assistant at St. John the Evangelist Church in Syracuse.

Father Dwyer was assigned as administrator at St. Mary’s Church in Kirkwood in 1953 before going to St. Francis de Sales in Utica where he once again served as an assistant. He received his first full-time pastor’s position in 1956 at Immaculate Conception Church in Greene. From 1963 until his retirement in 1984, Father Dwyer served as the pastor at St. Mark’s Church in Utica. The last of his family, Father Dwyer’s brother, Msgr. M. Shields Dwyer, passed away seven years and two days previous. The clerical calling had been common among the Dwyers. The man for whom Father Dwyer had been named was his uncle, who was also a priest. Father Karlen noted that most likely this uncle was a spiritual inspiration for the two priest brothers.

“His spirit caught fire with his nephews and drew them to the altar like a magnet,” Father Karlen said. In the midst of his homily, Father Karlen detailed a tribute to priesthood as a Cheyenne chief read it to Bishop John Baptist Brondel, the first bishop of Helena, Mont., in 1894. The chief described for the bishop a mountain around which the lives of his people revolved. It acted as a compass for that group of Cheyenne. The chief described the mountain “During the winter it was covered with snow but after the storm it was there,” Father Karlen read. Finally, the chief said to the bishop that the mountain “is our priest of God.” Father Karlen noted that the story of the mountain and what it meant to the Cheyenne did not inspire his homily, the life of Father Dwyer did.

“That’s what he was to the people,” Father Karlen said. He also found several correlations between the mountain and a description of the priest today written by Pope John Paul II in his Gift in Mystery, a document written to commemorate the late pontiff’s 50th anniversary of priesthood. Father Karlen linked those correlations to the life and example of Father Dwyer. “Indeed, he was a man in contact with God,” Father Karlen said. He also relayed that the pope referred to a priest as “one who has awesome power over the Eucharist,” another fitting description for the late priest, according to Father Karlen.

Father Karlen’s crafted homily finally came full circle as he closed with the mountain metaphor. “Bill was our mountain and on this mountain the Lord has provided for his family indeed,” Father Karlen said.

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