Father O’Dwyer was head of St. Stephen’s for 7 years
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
“There is no language like the Irish for soothing and quieting.”
– John Milton Synge
On a quest for a fresh start, a 25-year-old Irish priest named David T. O’Dwyer, disembarked in New York from the SS Tucania on Sept. 20, 1903. He was a thin, dark-haired man possessing a physically weak heart and a gentle passion for doing God’s work. He knew that once he reached Denver, his mission in America would become clear.
Father O’Dwyer received his answer a few weeks later when he was assigned to St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in Glenwood Springs. With very little public fanfare, O’Dwyer took the reigns of the church intent on providing the longevity in leadership so badly needed. By December 1903, O’Dwyer had already proven that he could lead without being dictatorial, and that his accessibility would be a guiding hand in building a parish and a community. He grew to love his new home.
O’Dwyer was so enamored with life in the United States that on July 4, 1906, he sponsored a dance and lecture at the Glenwood Springs Opera House on Seventh Street. Patriotic song filled the air. Then O’Dwyer took the stage, delivering a lecture “which fairly bristled with patriotism and loyalty to the starry banner which Americans love so well.” His trials with his illness took the audience back to his experiences in Ireland and then moved them across the ocean to the shores of America. As he recounted his travels westward across the continent in search of health, he “decided to adopt this as his country and spend the remainder of his days on American soil.”
He was true to his word. On April 6, 1909, O’Dwyer became a citizen of the United States of America. His natural ability to communicate beautifully through the spoken word with wit and wisdom made him a beloved citizen of Glenwood Springs. Through St. Stephen’s Catholic Church he sponsored dances and lectures while at the same time ministering to the births, deaths, marriages and troubles of families from Aspen to Grand Valley. And at a time when stories of robberies, prostitution, drunkenness and assaults frequented the Glenwood Springs newspapers, he sought to be a point in Glenwood Springs’ moral compass.
O’Dwyer, however, could not alter the change that was about to take place in his life. A power struggle between Father Joseph Carrigan of St. Patrick’s Church in Denver, and Denver’s Bishop Matz resulted in a highly publicized court case and appeals to Rome. The result was Father Carrigan’s reassignment to Glenwood’s St. Stephen’s Church. In turn, O’Dwyer was assigned to Carrigan’s St. Patrick’s in 1910.
O’Dwyer calmed the upheaval St. Patrick’s had suffered, becoming a guiding hand in the growth of the parish. In 1928 he was appointed Assistant Chancellor of the Catholic University in Washington, D.C., and was director of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
His failing heart brought him back to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Denver where he would spend the last three years of his life under medical care. On Oct. 5, 1944, the “gentleman priest” passed away. He was buried in Denver’s Mt. Olivet Cemetery.
Perhaps the best words upon Father O’Dwyer’s passing were found in a eulogy he himself had presented: May Mother Earth rest lightly upon his coffin.
Willa Kane is former archivist of and a current volunteer with the Frontier Historical Society and Museum. “Frontier Diary,” which appears the first Tuesday of every month, is provided to the Post Independent by the museum, 1001 Colorado Ave., Glenwood Springs. Summer hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information, call 945-4448.
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