Hawaii priest Msgr. Daniel J. Dever, born in Sea Isle, dies

By Patrick Downes

Hawaii Catholic Herald

Msgr. Daniel J. Dever, Hawaii’s former superintendent of Catholic schools who held the job for a record-breaking 42 years, died on Oct. 19 at Pohai Nani Care Center in Kaneohe after a lengthy illness. He was 14 days shy of his 86th birthday and a priest of the Diocese of Honolulu for 59 years.

Daniel Joseph Dever was born on Nov. 2, 1925, in Sea Isle, the son of a boat builder. He had five brothers and three sisters.

He received a public grade school education before enrolling at the Pontifical Josephinum Seminary in Worthington, Ohio. A recruiting visit to the seminary by Honolulu Bishop James J. Sweeney while Msgr. Dever was a student there convinced him to sign up for Hawaii.

He joked in a 1965 interview that he chose Honolulu “because I thought it was less likely to mean an office assignment.”

Father Dever was ordained on June 7, 1952.

In August of 1954, Bishop Sweeney appointed Father Dever at age 28 as superintendent of Hawaii’s Catholic schools. He was also assigned as moderator of the Newman Club at the University of Hawaii in Manoa, a position he would hold for 16 years.

He founded the Institute for Religion and Social Change which brought scholars, religious and community leaders together to bring about improvements in human relations.

He was an arbitrator of labor disputes. He created and chaired the ethics committee at St. Francis Medical Center. He lobbied against physician-assisted suicide at the state capitol. He also risked arrest protesting the Vietnam War and the presence of nuclear weapons at Pearl Harbor.

The Buddhists’ Honpa Honwanji Mission recognized him as one of the 1994 recipients of the “Living Treasure of Hawaii,” according to former Buddhist Bishop Yoshiaki Fujitani, “in recognition of Dan’s important presence in Hawaii.”

In 2006, Chaminade University of Honolulu awarded Msgr. Dever an honorary degree of Doctor of Human Letters.

When he retired in 1996 after 42 years as superintendent, said to be the longest term ever of a Catholic school superintendent in the United States, he received the praise of a wide variety of people, Catholics and others.

Sister Agnes Marie Wong, prioress of the Carmelite Monastery where Msgr. Dever served as priest and landscaper, called him a “humble” man. In addition to celebrating daily Mass for the nuns, the priest helped transform their convent environment to a lush enclosed garden with seven pools and seven waterfalls — one for each of the sisters, he said.

Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo was the last bishop Msgr. Dever served as superintendent. As fellow residents of St. Stephen Diocesan Center and regular dinner companions for 11 years, the two became fast friends.

Speaking by phone on Oct. 21 from Virginia where he is now the bishop of Richmond, Bishop DiLorenzo said the late monsignor was a wellspring of knowledge about Hawaii and an invaluable link to people of influence. “I will miss him very much,” the bishop said.

Msgr. Dever is survived by his brothers Roger of Cape May Court House and Francis of Seaville.

A funeral Mass was celebrated Nov. 2 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace. Inurnment at Hawaiian Memorial Park, Kaneohe.

Gifts in memory of Msgr. Dever are being accepted by the Augustine Educational Foundation, 6301 Pali Highway, Kaneohe, HI 96744. Make checks payable to the Augustine Educational Foundation with the name “Dever Leadership Fund” in the comment field. Go to www.augustinefoundation.org to make a donation by credit card.

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