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Faith, fidelity and one big surprise

Dewey and Jo Dutton (photo by Robert Linn/DCR)

For seven decades, Jo and Dewey Dutton, both 91, have experienced ups and downs that cemented their marriage. They’ve raised a family together, overcome illness, weathered loss, and prayed to the same God, though they didn’t always belong to the same church.

“Dewey wasn’t Catholic, he was Presbyterian,” Jo, a lifelong Catholic, told the Denver Catholic Register Sept. 23 while sitting at the kitchen table of the Lakewood home they’ve shared for nearly 50 years. “I didn’t want religion to separate us.

“I think God wanted me to be with him,” she said teary-eyed.

The two met in 1941 when they were teenagers at Denver’s North High School. After dating three years, Dewey proposed when home on furlough from the service.

“Well, Dewey, I don’t even know,” was Jo’s initial response when he popped the question. “Then we decided to get married then and there.”

“Then” was Jan. 17, 1944 and “there” was Dewey’s mother’s Highlands home at 3027 W. Highland Park Place. They were married by a Presbyterian minister.

“I never asked Dewey to give up his religion,” Jo said. “He loved his congregation.”

Jo would go to services with him; and Dewey to Mass with her. Longtime parishioners at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in north Denver, and now members at Our Lady of Fatima Parish, Jo was also an active volunteer with St. Joseph Hospital, Mount St. Vincent Home treatment center, Samaritan House and Father Ed Judy House shelters, as well as Mother Cabrini Shrine where they would also attend Mass.

“Dewey would partake in all of that,” she said.

They built their life together: Dewey operated several successful restaurants in the Denver metro area and they welcomed three children to the world: their son, Dana, and two daughters Andrea (Frieson) and Deb (Shita). Dana passed away from esophageal cancer in 1997, the most devastating loss of their lives.

While they sustained a life rooted in prayer and service, they continued to be affiliated with separate denominations for nearly 60 years.

One thing Jo was not aware of was that Dewey was also attending Mass at Mount St. Vincent Home on his own.

“(But) I felt bad because I couldn’t take Communion,” he said.

That, one step in his conversion, continued to develop through his friendship with Father John Lager, O.F.M. Cap., who has celebrated Mass at Mother Cabrini Shrine for nearly 30 years.

One Sunday, about 12 years ago, Dewey told Jo to “get the girls together; we’re going to Mass at the shrine.” During Mass, Dewey donned a white robe and proceeded to the front of the church.

“Dewey’s becoming Catholic!” Jo realized. She was stunned as he proceeded to make a profession of faith and receive the Eucharist.

Following the rite, Father Lager said. “Go ahead and kiss Jo.”

“That was the best kiss you’ve ever given me,” she said beaming at her husband, and recalling the congratulatory applause from the congregation.

“I didn’t know he could be so sneaky,” she told Father Lager that day.

“Just be happy,” he replied. “You’re going to go a long way together.”

It was very moving, Father Lager told the Register.

“And it was something that was very natural in his journey,” he added.

Dewey had approached Father Lager earlier indicating he was ready to convert and asking how to go about it.

“He was already about 80 at the time,” Father Lager recalled, and he proceeded to give him one-on-one instruction on the basics of the faith, sacraments and prayer. Dewey read and studied on his own as well.

Their already-strong marriage continued to endure, including sealing their marriage vows in the Church.

“The love that exists between us and the length of marriage we’ve had…,” Jo couldn’t finish, overcome with emotion thinking about their life together. “There are so many things that bind us together.

“I wish more people would learn that and know that,” she added. “I wish it could work out more.”

The Duttons had a chance to celebrate with many longtime married couples at the annual Anniversary Mass Oct. 5 at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception celebrated by Archbishop Samuel Aquila.

“We made the commitment to our vows,” she said. “With a lot of love and the presence of God in our lives we have persevered. Life has been good!”

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