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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COMING UP: On Fathers and Christian Masculinity

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The Year of St. Joseph points us to Jesus’ adoptive father, Joseph, as the essential model for fathers. Joseph not only manifests genuine masculinity, he also images God’s own fatherhood, as Pope Francis makes clear in his apostolic letter, Patris Corde: “In his relationship to Jesus, Joseph was the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father: he watched over him and protected him, never leaving him to go his own way.” Jesus, though the Son of God, obeyed Joseph, learned from him, and worked with him, acknowledging Joseph as a true expression of God’s own fatherhood.  

God does not just use fatherhood as an image of himself, because he himself is Father, even within his own triune life. Earthly fatherhood comes forth from him and should manifest his life and love. St. Paul speaks of honoring the “Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph 3:15). God wants everyone to be able to see his own fatherly love and called certain men to share in his own paternal gift of bringing forth life and caring for others. Every father is called to be liked Joseph, “an earthly shadow of the heavenly Father” for his own family. 

Our culture, however, often denigrates masculinity, sometimes viewing even its proper expressions as toxic. We too often see maleness in its fallenness — dominating and selfish — rather than showing self-sacrificial service. In fact, later in Ephesians, Paul speaks of the true vocation of the husband and father: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). He also speaks of the role of fatherhood: “Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). Paul shows us the goal of fatherhood — sacrificing himself for the flourishing of the family by putting the good of his wife and children before his own desires.   

No matter what the contrary voices of our culture say, we need strong men and fathers. God created man and woman in complementarity, and they need each other to thrive, helping the other in relation to their own strengths and weaknesses. Children need the strong presence of a father to discipline and teach, as Paul reminds us. Study after study has shown that fathers have the largest impact on the faith of their children. Christian Smith explains in his sociological study, Young Catholic America, that “the faith of Catholic fathers is powerfully determinative of the future faith of their children (125). The same can be said for general wellbeing and success. When fathers are absent or refuse to exercise their role, a moral and spiritual vacuum appears. A strong majority of felons, for instance, grew up without fathers in the home.  

St. Joseph helps us to understand the strength of Christian fatherhood. First, like any good husband, Joseph listened — not just to his wife but also to God. Woken up frequently by angels, he demonstrated obedience and trust, quickly leaving everything behind to follow God’s instructions and to protect his family. We also know Joseph for his work as a carpenter and builder, content to live simply and to work hard. Importantly, he also taught Jesus how to work, showing that fathers model and teach by drawing their children into their life and work. And we can also learn from Joseph’s humility, serving the Incarnate God and his Mother without even a single recorded word in the Gospels.  

This humility points us to the essence of Christian fatherhood. Although living with two perfect people, Joseph was still called to lead. He quietly and humbly did what was needed for his family and taught his own maker how to share in his work. Fathers do not lead in order to be in charge or to get their own way. They lead because God asks them to care for and protect their families. Fathers and mothers share in the great and beautiful partnership of family life, although fathers cannot simply sit back and let mom take the lead in the spiritual life, as they are often tempted to do. Like Joseph, fathers should act firmly and lovingly to put God and the family before self, obeying God and leading the family in the right direction. They are called to model faith, work, and sacrifice to their children. 

On Father’s Day we can affirm that masculinity and fatherhood are not just good — they are essential to understanding God and his plan for human flourishing. If our culture turns around, it will be because, in large part, Christian men stand up and fight. As Christians, we cannot give in to the culture’s attempt to denigrate masculinity and fatherhood or to pit men and women against each other. We can use this celebration to affirm the essential role that our fathers play, leading their families like St. Joseph.