Monsignor Desmond Dillon, a senior priest at St. Joseph Catholic Church who served in the clergy for more than 70 years, died at the age of 99 early Friday after a short illness.
"He was kind of an icon in the church," said the Rev. Richard Sedlacek, the current priest. "He was concerned about America and the direction we were going in. He was always promoting the church."
Dillon was named pastor at St. Joseph's in Kennewick in 1972, initially staying just three years, according to the Diocese of Yakima. 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, who was well-read and spoke several languages, continued to assist at Sunday Mass and at St. Joseph's school until his health deteriorated shortly before his death.
He was also dedicated to the community. Dillon Hall was named for him in 2006. More than 500 people attended a ceremony to honor Dillon when the facility opened just days before his 91st birthday.
The hall was an appropriate tribute to Dillon, Sedlacek said.
"He liked people, he liked social events," he said. "He liked gatherings where people came together."
Dillon was born in January 1915 in Hong Kong. Sedlacek jokes that he'd already made it to age 100, because the Chinese start counting a person's age from the time a baby is in the womb.
Dillon was a priest before the Diocese of Yakima existed, said Monsignor Robert Siler, chancellor and moderator of the curia for the diocese. He was ordained in 1941 in Seattle and joined the Diocese of Yakima when it was formed in 1951, while he was serving as administrator at St. Andrew's Church in Ellensburg.
"I don't think we have ever had a priest who served as long as he did, or lived as long as he did," Siler said. "He knew the entire history of the diocese. I think we have lost a very important link to our past. He served faithfully and did what the bishops asked him to do."
Dillon went to great lengths to take care of those he served. Joe Gallegos of Kennewick, a longtime friend, said he raised livestock in Ellensburg to raise money for the school at St. Andrew's.
"He did his time and he served the good lord for 73 years," he said. "Everybody loved him, not only the parishioners here, but throughout the Valley."
Dillon led Catholic Charities in Yakima in the 1960s, and was also instrumental in forming Tri-Cities Prep -- the only Catholic high school in the Tri-Cities -- in 1994 in Pasco, Gallegos said.
He was a frequent contributor to the letters section of the Herald for years. His last submission, criticizing same-sex marriage, appeared April 15. He was also critical of abortion and the Affordable Care Act, and supported immigration reform and forgiving addiction-related offenses for people who have been sober for 10 years.
"He wrote to the Tri-City Herald, the Supreme Court, the president -- he had no fear," Gallegos said.
Dillon even got a signed photo from President George W. Bush, Gallegos said.
Dillon was always generous, almost to a fault, Sedlacek said.
"He would help out whomever he could," he said. "He gave a lot of his own stuff away. He would not turn anybody away."
Gallegos got to know Dillon after Dillon came back to Kennewick, around the time Gallegos returned to the church after moving away from his faith. They became close enough that Gallegos took over Dillon's power of attorney in 1995. Dillon continued to come to Knights of Columbus meetings, where he served as chaplain, and led the Foundation for Communication of Christian Faith and Culture, until his death.
Gallegos was at Tri-Cities Chaplaincy Hospice House at 1:30 a.m. when Dillon died.
"He was just a great man," he said.
-- Geoff Folsom: 582-1543