Let us pray in thanksgiving for the life of Fr. Denis A. Dirscherl, SJ, who died on September 28, 2023 at Colombiere Center in Clarkston, Michigan. He was 89 years old. May he rest in peace. Denis is survived by his brother, Damian (Bud), and sister, Elizabeth Cole.
Denis was born in Troy, Ohio on May 10, 1934. He entered the Chicago Province of the Society of Jesus at Milford, Ohio on August 8, 1957. Denis was ordained a priest on June 8, 1967 at St. Joseph Church in Aurora, Illinois, and pronounced final vows at Georgetown Preparatory School in Rockville, Maryland, on April 23, 1981.
Before entering the Society, Denis served in the United States Air Force — Security Service: Intelligence (1952-1956), studied Russian at the Army Language School, Presidio of Monterey, Monterey, California (1953), and attended the University of Dayton (1956-1957). While in the Society, Denis earned a bachelor’s degree in Latin from Loyola University Chicago (1961), a master’s degree in Russian Studies from Middlebury College (1968), and a doctorate in Russian Studies from Georgetown University (1971). The title of his dissertation was Dostoevsky and the Catholic Church (published as a book in 1986).
During regency, Denis taught Latin and Speech at Saint Ignatius College Prep in Chicago (1963-1964). After earning his doctorate, Denis worked for the Department of Defense (1971-1983) before he was Director of Reserve Chaplain Affairs at Warner Robins Air Force Base in Georgia (1983-1988). Denis then was missioned to the secondary education apostolate where he spent over a decade teaching Latin and Russian in high schools: St. Xavier High School, Cincinnati (1988-1989); Cardinal Newman High School in Columbia, South Carolina (1989-1992); Lehman High School in Sidney, Ohio (1993-1996); Williamsport High School in Williamsport, Maryland (1996-2003); and Annapolis High School in Annapolis, Maryland (2003-2004). Denis then returned to the Air Force where he was an auxiliary Catholic chaplain (2004-2017). In 2017, he retired with the rank of Colonel after a total of 28 years of military service and was missioned to Colombiere Center to care for his health.
Denis was a faithful priest who greatly cared about those to whom he ministered. A proud Air Force veteran, Denis often expressed his love of the U.S.A. and found providing the sacraments to current/retired military personnel and their families to be especially gratifying.
Denis had a sharp mind, was fluent in Russian, wrote a large number of scholarly articles (e.g., “The Soviet Destruction of the Greek Catholic Church” 1970) and book reviews, and authored books (e.g., Speaking of God of which he was the editor). Throughout his life Denis worked at staying in good physical condition. He ran more than 80 marathons, refereed and played tennis, and took long walks each day. What was daily edifying to those who knew Denis was his willingness to hand over all of this as his diminishment increased, and did it with a generosity of spirit that allowed him to be a positive presence. It would have been understandable if he became bitter – and he didn’t at all. He lived the Suscipe fully at the end of his life which was a marvel to behold.
Denis was much loved by the staff at Colombiere Center; his warm smile and easy way were a welcoming presence appreciated by all. Though he lived on his own for much of his Jesuit life, he was a good community man when he entered into the life of the community to which he was attached. Perhaps his most edifying virtue was his obedience. He represented what he thought the Spirit was calling him to do but would always honor the decision of his superiors. His pastoral work at Wright Patterson Air Force Base and in Dayton area parishes were wonderful gifts to those he served. He prayed, worked on his homilies, was always available for the sacraments and pastoral visits. When Denis left Dayton for Colombiere, he was given a wonderful send-off by the people he served so faithfully.
Father Bob Thesing, SJ, offered this remembrance about Denis:
Denis worked for a good number of years as chaplain at Wright Patterson Air Force Base Chapel, near Dayton, Ohio, celebrating Mass and sacraments, visiting patients in the base hospital, and relating to the military community. During that time he was attached to the Jesuit Community at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati. When the decision was made for Denis to move to Colombiere his parishioners from the Air Force Base decided to give him a going-away party (to which I was invited as Denis’s Jesuit superior). Some three hundred people gathered for Mass and a fine dinner on a Saturday evening, and I was deeply touched by the love and appreciation they showed for their “pastor.” Some of the people were active military personnel, but others were retired personnel who continued to find the Air Force base their spiritual home. Usually military chaplains are moved frequently, but since Denis was officially retired from the air force, he chose to remain at Wright Patterson where he developed deep relationships with many people. Their gratitude was overwhelming, and Denis was visibly moved by their farewell tributes, formal and spontaneous.