Obituary: The Rev. Demetrius R. Dumm / Eminent biblical scholar served 57 years as a teacher, writer and spiritual leader

Oct. 1, 1923 - Nov. 17, 2013

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The Rev. Demetrius R. Dumm studied at some of the world's most prestigious schools, could read the Scriptures in their original Greek and Hebrew, and taught the full range of courses -- from Genesis to Revelations and everything in between -- at Saint Vincent Seminary in Latrobe.

But although he was an eminent biblical scholar, Father Dumm didn't use his knowledge to debate the fine points of church doctrine but rather to bring the Bible to life for his listeners by speaking to their hearts, said his friends and former colleagues.

"He was really called to serve in many ways," said Archabbot Douglas R. Nowicki of Saint Vincent Archabbey. "Because of his deep understanding of the Bible, he was able to speak about it in a way that touched their lives and enabled them to develop a deeper friendship with the Lord."

Father Dumm, a Benedictine priest who lived at the Archabbey in Latrobe, died Sunday. He was 90.

Born on a farm near Ebensburg, Pa., on Oct. 1, 1923, Father Dumm was the son of the late Gordon and Esther (Kirsch) Dumm. One of nine children, he attended a one-room country schoolhouse where he was taught reading, writing, arithmetic and geography along with 15 to 20 other children "so the teacher had lots of time to work with each one," said Father Dumm's brother, Pat Dumm.

Father Dumm finished eight years of primary school in six years, graduating at 12. Unable to start at Saint Vincent Preparatory School until he turned 13, Father Dumm -- who, like his siblings, began doing chores at an early age -- helped with milking, haying, raising vegetables and other work on the family homestead, which made its money from selling butter, eggs, pork, potatoes and other crops, Mr. Dumm said.

"It's a good way to know what work is," he said. "We had good work ethics when we left the farm."

After graduating from prep school in 1940, Father Dumm began studies at Saint Vincent College. After two years, he entered the Benedictine monastery of Saint Vincent Archabbey as a novice in 1942 and made a simple profession of vows the following year. He earned a bachelor of arts degree in philosophy from the college in 1945, then made a solemn profession of vows in 1946.

Father Dumm had studied at the seminary between 1943 and 1946 -- sometimes at the same time he was studying at the college, then began additional study in Rome. While in Italy, he was ordained a priest at Subiaco Abbey by the Most Rev. Lorenzo Salvi in 1947. He received a Doctor of Sacred Theology degree from the Pontifical Institute of Sant'Anselmo.

He studied at the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem from 1950 to 1952, after which he received a Licentiate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Commission in Vatican City.

After returning to Saint Vincent in 1952, Father Dumm began a 57-year career as a teacher, writer and spiritual leader who educated three generations of Catholic priests until his retirement in 2010.

Early on, he taught biblical Greek and Hebrew while also serving as the seminary's vice rector from 1955 to 1963. After becoming rector in 1963, his teaching career focused on the Scriptures, which he had a special skill in presenting in a way his listeners could understand, said the Rev. Richard Infante, pastor of Our Lady of Grace in Ross.

To students, Father Dumm always emphasized how they, as priests with parishes of their own someday, could and should translate the Scriptures to their parishioners, said Father Infante, who now teaches a class of his own at St. Paul Seminary in Crafton.

"More than half the material I present to students is derived from Father Dumm's lectures," he said. "There's no question he would have been a formative influence on my vocation, not only becoming a priest but particularly his understanding of Scriptures and how that deepened and shaped my understanding of the Bible."

During those years, Father Dumm also wrote five books, the most recent of which, "So We Do Not Lose Heart: Biblical Wisdom for All Our Days," was published in 2006 and reprinted in 2010.

In "A Mystical Portrait of Jesus, New Perspectives on John's Gospel," published in 2001, Father Dumm notes that "God has a 'bad press.'

"He is blamed for almost everything that we find hard to accept," the book states. "Most of all, I think, he is blamed for making us fragile and mortal human beings. However, when we see his own Son taking on that fragility and mortality and making it an instrument of his loving, we should conclude that God's love can be victorious in our lives also."

In addition to his books, Father Dumm co-authored a weekly column on Sunday homilies that began running on the archabbey's website in 1999, then began running in the Jednota, Pa., newspaper and began appearing in the weekly newspaper of the Diocese of Greensburg in 2011. He also was a major contributor to and an editor of the Collegeville Pastoral Dictionary of Biblical Theology, contributed to the New Jerome Bible Commentary, and wrote many articles for The New American Benedictine Review and The New Catholic Encyclopedia.

He also lectured widely, including in a series of lectures in England to a group of all the abbots and abbesses of the Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries in Great Britain, Ireland and Scotland, and gave several retreats in England, Ireland and Taiwan. He also conducted retreats at most of the Benedictine monasteries in the United States, as well as for bishops of 13 states, and was a member of numerous Catholic associations and boards.

In 2009, Father Demetrius received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Saint Vincent Seminary.

However busy his life sometimes became, however, Father Dumm never lost his love of the Earth and of growing things, or of the people around him, said his friends and family members. With seminarians, he played a strong game of horseshoes -- and often won, Father Infante said. He loved sharing his homegrown tomatoes and homemade dandelion wine with his brothers at the abbey.

And he didn't mind a bit when students asked him to grow hot Hungarian gypsy peppers for them in the vegetable garden he tended at the archabbey, Father Infante said.

"Here he is, in the midst of all his other duties, and he would drop a bushel of peppers off at the seminary for us," Father Infante said with a laugh.

Mr. Dumm is survived by siblings Dolores Demma of Lusby, Md.; Donald Dumm of Ebensburg; Imogene Reidy of Silver Spring, Md.; Roselyn Colella of Olney, Md.; Clair Dumm of Ebensburg; and Patrick Dumm of Summerhill, Pa.

Viewing will be from 2 to 5 p.m. today at the Elizabeth Roderick Center of Saint Vincent Seminary. A vigil service will be held at 7:15 p.m. in the Archabbey Basilica. A burial Mass will be celebrated by Archabbot Nowicki on Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. in the basilica. Burial will follow in the Saint Vincent Cemetery.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Father Demetrius R. Dumm Endowment for Biblical Studies, Saint Vincent Seminary, 300 Fraser Purchase Road, Latrobe, PA 15650.

Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: or 412-263-1719.


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