Kennewick priest laid to rest

By Loretto J. Hulse, Tri-City HeraldMay 19, 2014 

The late Monsignor Desmond Dillon was a priest who loved unconditionally. He loved God, his parishioners, his community.

"You didn't have to be a member of his church to be touched by him," said Rev. Mac Culver of Christ the Redeemer Anglican Church in Kennewick. He said phone calls from the monsignor led to some very interesting situations.

"He'd call and say, 'Work with me on this little project.' They were never little. But to say I'll miss him and his phone calls is a gross understatement," Culver said.

Dillon's love was returned Monday during a packed funeral Mass at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Kennewick. An estimated 1,500 people attended.

People began arriving for the services an hour early. A big screen was set up in the adjacent smaller chapel with a live feed from the main church.

A rosary and vigil service Sunday drew a crowd of about 500 people, said Rev. Richard Sedlacek, pastor at St. Joseph's.

By ones and twos, people approached the monsignor's open casket to pay their last respects before the Monday service. Dillon died May 9. He was 99.

Ordained in 1941, Dillon was named pastor at St. Joseph's in Kennewick in 1972, initially staying just three years. He then served four years as pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Prosser.

After serving at churches in Sunnyside and Toppenish, he returned to St. Joseph's in 1986 as senior priest. He was named "Chaplain to His Holiness" by Pope John Paul II, which included the title monsignor, on the 50th anniversary of Dillon's ordination in 1991.

Dillon continued to assist at Sunday Mass and at St. Joseph's school until failing health made it impossible for him to continue.

Monday's funeral service was led by Joseph J. Tyson, the bishop of the Yakima Diocese, which serves seven counties, including Benton, Grant and Yakima counties.

In his homily on the life and priesthood of the late monsignor, Tyson said Dillon had always disputed his age. Dillon had fully intended to live to 100 and said because he was born in Hong Kong and the Chinese count a person's age from the time of conception, he was actually in his 100th year.

That Dillonism had everyone in the church clapping.

Tyson said Dillon was a happy priest. Then he paused and asked: What makes a happy priest?

"The bevy of women to type all his letters? Well, they can stop now." Dillon was infamous for his letter writing.

"Having (the Rev.) Richard Sedlacek patiently listening while Dillon told him how to run the parish?"

"Or, was it his own joy in the priesthood?"

"There are four characteristics of a joyful priest: prayer, obedience, celibacy and simplicity of life," Tyson said.

There's no doubt the monsignor lived all four, the bishop said, "yet his fidelity to obedience did not mean he locked out opinions of his own. He wrote more letters to me than any other priest in the diocese."

Dillon was still at it days before he died. The bishop, hearing that the priest was failing rapidly, drove to his bedside at Hospice at The Chaplaincy in Kennewick.

"When I returned to Yakima, there was one last letter from him that had to have been written four or five days before he died. In it, he was asking me to work with Sedlacek on a dance and fundraiser to celebrate marriage.

"That's one letter of his I don't have to reply to. But I guess we have one more project to complete for Monsignor Dillon," the bishop said, smiling.

He closed by thanking God for giving the gift of the monsignor to the church, to his parishioners over the years and to the community.

At the close of the service, several colleagues and friends were invited to share their memories.

Bob Seidel, principal of St. Joseph's School, said Dillon had a special affection for children and education.

"He'd often visit the classrooms and had a motto he taught them," Seidel said, asking the school children attending to stand.

"What did he teach you?" he asked, smiling as they recited, "God made us to be good and happy and successful."

Arlene Jones, principal at Tri-Cities Prep in Pasco, said Dillon was one of the school's founders.

"He was more than just a presence. You can still feel his grace in the halls of the school," she said.

The monsignor had a real sense of hospitality, said retired Bishop William Skylstad, who now lives in the Spokane area. He was bishop of the Yakima Diocese before Tyson.

"He was always willing to get together, celebrate and enjoy a meal. He said if there was a chance to do it, take it and he did often. He had an open and hospitable heart," Skylstad said.

-- Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513; lhulse@tricityherald.com

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