Let us pray in thanksgiving for the life of Fr. Norman J. Dickson, SJ, who died on November 24, 2020 at Colombiere Center in Clarkston, Michigan. He was 83 years old. May he rest in peace.
Norm was born on December 4, 1936 in Detroit. Before entering the Society of Jesus, he graduated from the University of Detroit Jesuit High School (1954). Norm entered the Society on September 1, 1954, at Milford, Ohio. He was ordained on July 29, 1967, in Frankfurt, Germany, and professed final vows on February 2, 1979 at Walsh Jesuit High School in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.
While in the Society, Norm earned a bachelor’s degree in Literature from Xavier University (1958) and a master’s degree in classics from Loyola University Chicago (1963). He studied theology at Sankt Georgen Graduate School of Philosophy and Theology, Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany (1964-1968).
During regency, Norm taught Latin and Greek at Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland (1961-1964). After ordination, Norm spent 14 years at the recently established Walsh Jesuit High School in Cuyahoga Falls. At Walsh, he taught, was director of student social services, and served as president (1970-1975). When Norm was president at Walsh he reserved cutting the grass on the school’s property to himself. He liked riding the tractor and the solitude it gave him. He would say that the seeming monotony of the job gave him a great chance to pray uninterrupted.
In 1982, Norm was missioned to help start Loyola Secondary School in Wau, South Sudan. While in Wau, he was director of mission at the school in addition to serving as superior of the Jesuit Community. The first 50 students arrived at Loyola in 1984. However, war and turmoil in South Sudan meant the school could only run for two years before closing and suspending admissions in 1985. Norm stayed in Wau until 1987 hoping that things would settle down and the school could reopen. [Unfortunately, the school was not able to reopen until 2006.] After a year sabbatical (at Walsh Jesuit) and a year as an assistant campus minister at the University of Detroit, Norm returned to Africa in 1989. He spent three years as the assistant rector and minister at Hekima College in Nairobi, Kenya.
Norm returned to the US for good in 1992, when he was missioned to work in the Detroit province office. He was the vocation director for the Detroit Province (1992-1997) and the provincial assistant for international ministries (1995-1997). Norm was pastor of Gesu Parish in Detroit (1997-2005). In 2007, Norm—always available to be sent where the need was the greatest—returned to the Detroit province office as treasurer.
In 2009, Norm returned to his great love: parish ministry. He was the administrator of two parishes in Michigan: St. Mary of the Woods Parish in Kalkaska and St. Aloysius Parish in Fife Lake. He also did prison ministry in the area. Norm continued his administrator duties until, in October 2020, he had to get care for his cancer at Colombiere Center.
When Norm was in Kalkaska and Fife Lake, he asked folks what they thought the people would like. Several folks responded: “a vegetable garden.” He started one at St. Mary’s and the people of the parish worked it with relish. Every autumn they would send several tons of fresh vegetables to local food pantries to distribute to the poor. Norm said that the garden did more to pull the people together than anything ever said from the pulpit, and gave them a chance to live the Gospel through feeding those most in need. He likewise loved to spend time relaxing each week at Villa Marquette in Omena, Michigan—one of his favorite places in the world!
Norm was a marvelous storyteller who loved to regale people with his stories. When telling a seemingly outlandish story, there would always be a twinkle in his eyes and a smile on his lips.
Norm did his theology studies in Frankfurt in Germany and kept up his German by praying the Office in German each day. Upon his arrival there he dropped off his bags at the porteria in the care of a priest that he would later learn was his rector. He then went outside and got into a car with an attractive young lady to go on vacation for a week. It was his sister. His rector would retell this story for years saying, “this American came to the theologate, gave me his bags and then took off for a week with Miss America in this fancy car.”
Norm was an avid athlete and loved playing softball and golf. He loved telling the story of the time that he and his team played The King and his Court; softball’s equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters. The King lost as infrequently as the Harlem Globetrotters, but Norm’s team managed to eek out a win against these pros.
Sunday, November 29, 2020
7:00 p.m. EST
Monday, November 30, 2020
10:45 a.m. EST
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, attendance is private and can only be attended by members of the Colombiere community.
Watch the livestream visitation and funeral at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9TJEVaNcLIQmq5H37lepXQ/videos