Father Thomas Edward Dubay, S.M. died Sunday, September 26, 2010 at the age of 88 years at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, MD. He had been admitted to Holy Cross the previous day from the nursing care facility, Springbrook Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, where he had been living for less than a month. On Friday night he was found to be unconscious and unresponsive and was taken by ambulance to the hospital emergency room. After tests on Saturday, doctors diagnosed a steady bleeding in the brain for which there was no relief or remedy. Father Dubay never regained consciousness and died early Sunday morning, 4:45 a.m., September 26, 2010, fortified with the sacraments of Holy Mother Church and the prayers of his Marist religious confreres.
Father Dubay was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota on December 30, 1921, one of the seven children of Elie Albert Dubay and Leah Caron Dubay. The Dubay family had a French Canadian background, but both parents were born in the United States – his father in Minneapolis and his mother in Superior, Wisconsin. He attended public elementary school in Minneapolis and De La Salle High School, run by the Christian Brothers. Upon graduating from high school in 1939, he entered St. Mary’s Manor, the minor seminary (or junior college) of the Marist Fathers and Brothers located in South Langhorne, Pennsylvania to begin his college studies. After two years there, Father Dubay entered the Marist novitiate Our Lady of the Elms on Staten Island, New York. After one year of novitiate studies, he professed first vows in the Society of Mary on September 8, 1944.
After religious profession, Thomas Dubay moved to Marist College in Washington, DC for two years of studies in philosophy, followed by the required four years of theology. On June 8, 1950, Fr. Dubay was ordained a priest by Bishop Michael J. Keyes, S.M., the bishop emeritus of Savannah. The next 60 years of his priestly life and ministry stand as a glowing testament to his dedicated service to God’s people through his work first in seminary education and then his tireless initiatives in all areas of spiritual renewal: education, writing, personal counseling, correspondence, assisting religious orders and parish congregations.
His first assignment in the fall of 1950 was to remain in Washington and continue with postgraduate education. He earned a masters degree in 1951 from The Catholic University of America. Six years later, in 1957, he would be awarded a doctorate in education from the same Catholic University. His dissertation bore the title: “A Philosophical Study of the State as Educator.” In 1952 he began a distinguished tenure as seminary professor and spiritual director at Notre Dame Seminary, the major seminary for the Archdiocese of New Orleans which the Marist Society staffed and administered at that time. He spent two years on the faculty of Marist College back in Washington where he had done his theology, and then returned to New Orleans and Notre Dame Seminary for eleven more years of training priests for the various dioceses of Louisiana and elsewhere in the South. In 1967 he served for a year at the Marist seminary called St. Joseph’s Manor in Bettendorf, Iowa, and was then invited to teach with the Sisters of Mercy at Russell College in Burlingame, California, where he stayed for two years. Following Russell College, he joined the faculty of Chestnut Hill College, run by the Sisters of Saint Joseph in Philadelphia. After three years at Chestnut Hill, he returned to Washington in 1973 to lecture seminarians at Marist Seminary for the next four years. This assignment gave him ample time to continue his writing of books on the Church and religious life which were being so well received.
In 1977 Father Dubay entered the second phase of his ministry to God’s people. He essentially left the classroom to step into the pulpit and the broadcast studio and, above all, into an airplane seat. At the recommendation of his provincial superior, he took up the challenges that all religious orders were facing then after the Vatican II Ecumenical Council. The council called for all religious congregations to adapt and renew their forms of life according to their original, founding inspiration taking into account the reality and needs of the contemporary world. Father Dubay assisted dozens of groups of Sisters in their efforts at renewal and adaptation, especially in bringing their rule of life, or Constitutions, into line with Vatican directives. Sometimes, his collaboration with a particular order stretched over several years.
During those years, more and more people, both religious and lay, realized what an inspiring speaker he was and how deeply effective he was at spiritual counseling. He began to respond to invitations from all over the country to direct retreat programs for seminarians, cloistered monasteries of both men and women, parish congregations, lay associations, new religious orders in their infancy, hermits, prison inmates, and many, many others. At the same time, Fr. Dubay continued his invaluable contribution to spiritual people everywhere as the author of books on prayer and the inner life and countless articles for theological and spiritual journals and various compendiums and encyclopedias.
Starting in 1977, Fr. Dubay became a constant traveler, an itinerant spiritual master and counselor of the soul. His travels took him all over the United States, to big cities and small towns, even to isolated communities of monks and hermits. He gave retreats and courses in England, Scotland, Ireland, Poland, Rome, Toronto and Halifax in Canada, Tonga in the South Pacific, Australia, Singapore and Malaysia. He visited Mother Theresa’s Missionaries of Charity at their headquarters in Calcutta several times to give courses to the young Sisters and retreats to the older nuns.
He seemed to be always “on the road,” to use his own expression, and became thoroughly familiar with the vagaries of modern air travel. Whenever he returned to “home base” (another of his favorite terms, meaning the local Washington community), he could regale community members with stories of canceled flights, missed connections, lost baggage, and after visiting foreign countries, he had stories of unfamiliar food, unfamiliar insects and unfamiliar customs. He recounted a heart-palpitating ride at breakneck speed along a treacherous jungle road in Malaysia with a young local Sister behind the steering wheel, oblivious to his pleas for caution. He also told of an otherwise rewarding retreat he was giving at a beautiful retreat house perched in the Colorado Rockies in early December. Before retiring for the night one evening, he stepped out of his room onto the adjoining balcony to retrieve a carton of milk he left there to cool in the near-frigid air. When the balcony door slammed shut and locked behind him, Father’s great dilemma was either to endure freezing quietly or risk waking up any number of sleeping retreatants by his loud shouts for rescue. He chose the latter.
Anyone who knew Fr. Dubay, even casually, would remember his wonderful intellectual curiosity and indefatigable research into subjects new and old. This, of course, can be seen as an aspect of his lifelong search for the Truth. Science and the study of nature fascinated him endlessly. He read the monthly publications “Discovery Magazine” and “National Geographic” from cover to cover. Every Tuesday he requested to see first the “Science and Nature” section of the New York Times. He would show delight at the announcement of a hitherto unknown galaxy or a new article on the life cycle of the earthworm. He would listen as intensely as a student preparing for a final exam while a former missionary from the South Pacific described the reproduction process of the malaria parasite in the stomach lining of the anopheles mosquito. This information will not come as a surprise to anyone who has read Fr. Dubay’s masterful 1999 book “The Evidential Power of Beauty: Science and Theology Meet.”
Another enduring interest for Fr. Dubay year after year was the success of Notre Dame University’s football team. He was an unapologetic fan and followed their games faithfully.
Father Dubay’s voluminous written output, tapped out on his portable typewriter for so many years, could easily lead one to conclude that here was a person who would find it difficult to adapt to the modern wonders of computer science. It was with a little hesitation, but then with a whole-hearted conversion that he embraced the ease and convenience of the laptop. All his recent books and articles he wrote on his computer. And then after several years of drawing the line at using the internet and e-mail correspondence, he learned how simple it could be and became an avid fan. While he was still traveling widely, a grateful and generous couple asked if they could give him an MP3 player. He said he was not quite sure what they were talking about. When they showed him how they had already downloaded a few hundred hours of Mozart, Brahms and Puccini, among others, he was thrilled and thankful to accept it.
Father Thomas Dubay penned more than 20 books on topics such as religious life, interior renewal, prayer, Carmelite mysticism, Ignatian spirituality, spiritual discernment, religious authority and, as already mentioned, science and theology. Forty years ago his principal publishers were Alba House and Dimension Books. At that time, there were also numerous cassette tapes commercially available of his lectures, retreats, instructions, etc. In recent decades his publisher has been Ignatius Press, which has produced not only the print version of his books but also audio versions on Compact Disc format. And within the last year, Fr. Dubay learned that several of his books would soon appear as electronic books to be downloaded to electronic readers. He wondered if that might be a little too modern for his message. Some of his books have been translated into a dozen or more languages. His publisher sent him a Lithuanian version as well as a Polish translation of “Fire Within,” for his perusal. On looking at them, it was clear that he was simply amazed at how widespread his writings and ideas have already become, but he joked that he would never really be able to tell how faithfully the translations adhered to his original message.
Among his most popular and best read titles are, “Authenticity: a Biblical Theology of Discernment,” “Deep Conversion, Deep Prayer,” “Evidential Power of Beauty,” “Faith and Certitude,” “Fire Within: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and Gospel, on Prayer,” “Happy Are you Poor: the Simple Life and Spiritual Freedom,” “Prayer Primer: Igniting a Fire Within,” “Saints: a Closer Look,” and “Seeking Spiritual Direction: How to Grow the Divine Life Within.”
Through the years, Fr. Dubay was a frequent contributor to The American Ecclesiastical Review, Review for Religious, Sponsa Regis, New Scholasticism, Pastoral Life, The Priest, Theological Studies, La Vie Spirituelle, America Magazine, Communio, First Things, and Homiletic and Pastoral Review. He wrote articles for, among others, the New Catholic Encyclopedia and the Catholic Youth Encyclopedia, and number of Catholic newspapers, including the National Catholic Register. He was a member of several academic and professional fraternities, including the American Fellowship of Catholic Scholars.
Another outstanding aspect of Fr. Dubay’s contributions to the Church has been his remarkable association with EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network) and Mother Angelica. In 1988 he was first a guest on “Mother Angelica Live” and then as a host of a baker’s dozen of series of courses and lectures, appearing often on “EWTN Bookmark” episodes. He was fond of saying that he never wrote a book or made a TV series unless it was on a topic about which there was a real need for more information. He visited the network in Ironton, Alabama every year (or more often) for 20 years to record popular series on his favorite saints – St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila – and his favorite topics – prayer, heroic virtue, science, nature and beauty. Many of these television series have been available for purchase on video cassette or DVD, as one other outlet for disseminating Fr. Dubay’s most needed and most appreciated spiritual richness. He also appeared numerous times on various Catholic radio programs, including those on the EWTN international radio network. These were interview shows, call-in programs, and sometimes lectures or readings from one of his books.
An appreciation of Fr. Thomas Dubay’s life and ministry would not be complete without mentioning at least some of the religious groups and associations he worked with most closely and with whom he had strong bonds of affection. He was devoted to Mother Theresa’s Missionary Sisters of Charity, and to many monasteries of Carmelite nuns. Included there would also be many fraternities of Secular Carmelites (sometimes known as the Third Order of Mount Carmel). He was close to many convents of Poor Clare Sisters, Dominican Sisters, Passionist Sisters, and the Sisters of Life. He had a special relation of affection and respect for Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, where he gave mini-courses and retreats at various times. He was quite fond of, dedicated to and indebted to the Little Sisters of the Poor, especially as he spent the last nine months living in their St. Jeanne Jugan Residence in Washington, DC.
Hundreds and even thousands of people knew Fr. Dubay, through his television and radio appearances, his writings, his many years of giving retreats and spiritual direction, written correspondence and, of course, personally. Virtually all of them can attest to his holiness, his sincerity, his intensity, his values of honesty and integrity. To use the metaphor of fire, which appears in several of his book titles, Fr. Dubay was aflame with love of God and love of neighbor. Those closest to him know of his incredible generosity with his time and interest to those who came in person to see him, or telephoned or wrote him. He had a keen sense of humor, an innate sense of hospitality, interest in others that always came across as genuine and warm. He obviously earned admiration for his intellectual and academic achievements, but also showed the most complete humility. Some who knew him well might admit that he actually seemed shy at times. For so many who knew him well, the sense of grief and personal loss will be deep, but our faith teaches us, as Fr. Dubay himself so frequently reminded us, that the fullness of life and happiness comes only in the Transforming Union with the Most Blessed Trinity.
A little over two years ago, doctors told Fr. Dubay that they had discovered the first stages of bladder cancer. He immediately began the protocols of regular chemotherapy and radiation. This lasted for several months, and resulted in successful remission of all malignancy. It also meant, however, that he would have to end all his traveling and cancel all the commitments that he had already made, some of them of several years’ standing. This was most difficult for him to do, since he valued so highly his word that he had given on taking on the commitments. But it soon became clear that he would never be able to resume the rigors of traveling or the strenuous pace he set for himself in giving retreats and lectures. He wisely chose to remain at the Marist Community in Washington taking on various nearby commitments that meant little travel and congenial encounters with various parish renewal sessions in the local area, lectures to high school students and to high school teachers, and spiritual direction and counseling for those who could come to see him at the community residence.
A year ago, Father’s equilibrium in walking and using the stairs began to deteriorate. It was not clear for a long time whether the problem lay in a muscular issue, the inner ear or perhaps a neurological source. After a number of medical tests and a worsening of the ability to handle steps, Fr. Dubay left the three-story Marist community residence in February of this year and entered the Little Sisters of the Poor facility, named for their Foundress, St. Jeanne Jugan. He received extraordinarily loving care from the Little Sisters and was holding his own until the last days of August when both the Sisters and his doctors noticed a decline in his overall health. A gradual failing of the kidneys was diagnosed, and his doctor ordered regular dialysis treatment. Finding another nursing facility that had onsite dialysis was imperative. Thus, Father Dubay was admitted to the Springbrook Nursing and Rehabilitation Center just after Labor Day. He duly received the dialysis treatments three times a week and was adapting to his new surroundings. But very late last Friday evening or early Saturday morning, the nursing staff found him unconscious and unresponsive. He was taken immediately by ambulance to Holy Cross Hospital, where the diagnosis pointed to a bleeding in the brain that could not be stopped. Twenty-four hours later, our loving Savior called Father Thomas Dubay to his heavenly home, Sunday, September 26, at 4:45 a.m.
Father Dubay is survived by his sister, Marie Dubay who lives in Australia, another sister, Vernanne Dubay Paquette of Minneapolis, and by two brothers, Alan Dubay of Vanuatu, South Pacific, and Eli Dubay of Minneapolis. He was preceded in death by his brother, a permanent deacon, Rev. Mr. Frank Dubay, and his sister, Mrs. Norma Dubay Schepers. He is also survived by numerous, nieces and nephews and grandnieces and nephews, as well as by his brother priests and religious in the Society of Mary, the religious community that he called his family for almost seven decades.
Father Dubay lived his Marist religious life with the utmost fidelity and always with joy. He had the remarkable happiness to celebrate with his fellow Marists the Golden Jubilee (50 years anniversary) of religious profession as a Marist, and then the Golden Jubilee of priestly ordination in 2000. It was earlier this year, in June, that he celebrated 60 years of ordained ministry.
Tributes have already begun to pour in in loving memory of Fr. Dubay. His provincial superior, Father Ted Keating, S.M., stated that the whole Marist Society is honored by Fr. Dubay’s amazing service and dedication. He said, “Father Dubay’s contribution to the American Catholic Church, and to religious life in particular, is simply incalculable.” From an earlier tribute in October 2008, Dr. William E. May, the noted philosopher, theologian and professor hailed Fr. Dubay as “certainly among the greatest experts on the spiritual life in the Catholic Church today.” Father Dubay’s local superior, Fr. Bruce Lery, S.M., noted that he shared “Fr. Tom’s personal journey from strength to less strength and weakness.” He said, “I have learned from the experience of Fr. Tom’s transition a sense of gentleness and patience that will be his lasting gift to me.”