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Msgr. John Dillon Day, longest ordained priest


Msgr. John Dillon Day Pilot file photo

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One of Boston’s most unassuming yet most widely known and deeply loved priests died after a short illness at St. Patrick Manor in Framingham on Sept. 7. Msgr. John Dillon Day was 94 and the last member of the Class of 1939; he was the second oldest priest of the archdiocese, 18 months younger than Msgr. Paul Moritz of Regina Cleri Residence.

John Day was born in Willimantic, Conn. on Nov. 2, 1912, the son of Michael and Bridget (Dillon) Day; his father worked for the old New Haven-Boston and Maine Railway. The family moved to Boston’s Hyde Park section and John and his sister Mary Margaret attended the parish grammar school called St. Raphael.

He was awarded scholarships both to Boston College High School and Boston College -- he was graduated from the high school in the class of 1930 and was a member of the class of 1934 at Boston College. After two years at ‘‘the Heights’’ he crossed the street and entered St. John’s Seminary. When he completed his seminary formation he was ordained at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

He was the last priest of the archdiocese to have been ordained by Boston’s only auxiliary bishop at the time, Archbishop-designate Francis Spellman. Bishop Spellman had just been named the archbishop of New York a few weeks before the scheduled ordination of the class of 1939 which was on May 3. In another interesting historical twist connecting the two, Msgr. Day died on the eve of Bishop Spellman’s 75th anniversary of episcopal ordination, celebrated by Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli the future Pope Pius XII on Sept. 8, 1932 in Rome.

During his 48 years of active priestly ministry, Msgr. Day held assignments in four parishes. An amazing record of 44 years was almost evenly split between two St. Mary’s -- Lynn, as an assistant (1943-1962); and Milton, first as an assistant (1962-1966), and then as pastor from 1966 to 1987. His two other assignments were for a few months following ordination at St. Mark Parish, Dorchester and then from August 1939 to January 1943 at St. Bridget Parish, Framingham.

At Lynn he was not only assistant to the irascible Msgr. Joseph McGlinchey and the gentlemanly and studious Msgr. Cornelius Sherlock, but was also the athletic director and virtual vocation director of the parish. He touted the academic and athletic talents of his students and gave such a stellar example of priestly zeal and enthusiasm that an astounding 40 young men of the parish were ordained priests -- as Msgr. Day said “Their families were the first reason. I hope that I had some part in their decisions.” Another priest related that Msgr. McGlinchey once said “I could replace you on the faculty, as athletic director, as anything else; but I could never get anyone to promote vocations like you do.”

A man of letters and learning, he was a self-taught linguist. Two stories illustrate his ability. He maintained that, when he was named a monsignor on March 13, 1967, it was because Cardinal Cushing had learned that he spoke Russian. When Roman Curial Cardinal Peter Agagianian visited Boston the archbishop decided to showcase Father Day who had taught himself Russian from Berlitz records. He mused that the daylong journey with Cardinal Cushing and his Roman visitor got him the buttons! Also, Father Jim Larner, presently parochial vicar at St. Gregory, Dorchester tells the story about introducing Msgr. Day to his elderly father in Dorchester. Knowing that Mr. Larner had been born in Ireland, Msgr. Day broke into excellent Irish with Mr. Larner bestowing the plaudits about Msgr. Day to Father Jim “He has good Irish.”

Entwined with his priestly zeal was a son’s love for his alma mater, Boston College. He was a highly sought after dinner speaker. Calling “encyclopedic” his incredible grasp and memory of Boston College athletic legend, lore and statistics, and institutional history underrates greatly the truth. He could be at a banquet, point to Doug Flutie and rattle off stats, games, plays and weather, and then tell Doug, it reminded him of the game “we played” and go back 50 years to a similar circumstance and provide the same detail -- all without a note! He was the founder of the football program at St. Mary Parish, Lynn and shamelessly outfitted the new team in BC’s maroon and gold!

Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley was the principal celebrant of Msgr. Day’s funeral on Sept. 12 at Most Precious Blood Church. Springfield’s retired Bishop Joseph Maguire, a fellow Boston College alumnus, was the homilist. Joining the cardinal as concelebrants were Central Regional Bishop Robert Hennessey, and Father Richard Erikson, archdiocesan vicar general, Father Peter Nolan, CSSp, Most Precious Blood’s pastor and many of Msgr. Day’s priest friends. Msgr. Day was buried in Fairview Cemetery, Hyde Park. He is survived by his sister May Margaret Day of Framingham.

It is said among alumni of various schools of alumni like John Dillon Day “He bled (insert here school colors).” Msgr. Day not only bled maroon and gold, but he also soared with eagles wings of priestly zeal to excellence in the service of God’s people, his brother priests, this local Church of Boston, and his alma mater.

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