Reverend Gilbert J. Graham, O.P., former prior provincial of the Dominican Province of St. Albert the Great, died Friday, June 20, 2008, in Chicago, Illinois, after a period of declining health. Born on July 31, 1921, the son of the late Robert Francis Graham and Helen Fitzgerald Graham of Boston, Massachusetts, he was the brother of the late Robert and Paul Graham and is survived by his brother, David Graham, and sister, Kathleen, as well as by six nieces and nephews, numerous great nieces and nephews, and many friends and relatives. Fr. Graham entered the Dominicans in 1943 and was ordained a priest in 1949. After his ordination, he served first as Director of Vocations for the Dominicans and then as pastor of St. Pius V Church in Chicago. In 1964, he was elected Prior Provincial of the Central Province of the Dominican Friars. His term covered the last year of the Second Vatican Council and the turbulent years that followed. During this time, Father Graham hosted the General Chapter of the Dominican Order of 1968, in which Dominican superiors from around the world gathered at Saint Thomas Aquinas Priory in River Forest, to renew the Order. He later served in Rome and then in Dallas, where for almost 30 years he preached and offered pastoral care at the Saint Jude Chapel in the heart of the business district. He had among his friends many prominent figures in Chicago, Boston, and Dallas, including the late mayor and his wife, Richard J. Daley, as well as other members of the Daley family. Celebration of a Mass of Christian Burial took place at St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church in River Forest, IL, on Friday, June 27th.
Reverend Gilbert J. Graham, O.P., 1921 – 2008
The Reverend Gilbert J. Graham, O.P., gifted Catholic priest and former prior provincial with prominent friends both locally and nationally, loved Chicago throughout his priestly life. A native Bostonian who was born in 1921, he ended a promising acting career at the Catholic University of America under the training of the late Father Gilbert Hartke, O.P. and Helen Hayes, to pursue a vocation in the Dominican Order as a Roman Catholic priest. He was first to play the role of George M. Cohan in the stage production of Yankee Doodle Dandy that later starred James Cagney in the film production. As a young man, he was invited to Hollywood to meet with Mr. Cagney to share his experience of that role.
Fr. Graham maintained a warm friendship with his childhood neighbor, the late Speaker of the House, John W. McCormack, through whom he was introduced to President Lyndon B. Johnson. He also knew the Massachusetts Congressman and Speaker of the House who was a successor to Mr. McCormack, Thomas “Tip” O’ Neill. He was especially close, however, to the late Mayor and Mrs. Richard J. Daley and his family, with whom he developed life-long friendships, celebrating the funeral Masses of the former mayor and his wife. He counted among his friends many members of the Catholic hierarchy as well, including Cardinal Cody of Chicago, Cardinal Cushing of Boston, Bishop Cletus O’Donnell of Madison, Wisconsin, and Bishop Timothy Lyne of Chicago, some of whom he met during his years as President of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men.
After his ordination in 1949, he served first as Director of Vocations for the Dominicans and then as pastor of St. Pius V Church in Chicago. In 1964, he was elected Provincial of the Central Province of the Dominican Friars. His term covered the last year of the Second Vatican Council and the turbulent years that followed. During this time, Father Graham hosted the General Chapter of the Dominican Order of 1968, in which Dominican superiors from around the world gathered at Saint Thomas Aquinas Priory in River Forest, Illinois, to renew the entire Dominican Order as called for by the Vatican Council. Over a three month period, the Constitutions of the Order were revised and promulgated due to the effective planning and organization of Father Graham and his staff. At the end of this meeting, the Master General of the Dominican Order appointed him the Director of Development for the Angelicum, the international study center of the Order in Rome, which includes among its alumni the late Pope John Paul II.
When his term ended in Rome in 1974, he took on pastoral duties at the Saint Jude Chapel in downtown Dallas, Texas, while maintaining close connections with friends in Chicago. Throughout his years of ministry in the heart of the business district of Dallas, he befriended some of the most influential and some of the poorest members of the city. Among the former was the late Mr. Henry Wade, who as District Attorney for the State of Texas defended the 1973 Supreme Court case that bears his name, Roe v. Wade.
Apart from his gift for preaching which drew crowds each week to the Shrine, Fr. Graham was known as a priest whose door was always open to those in need. In recent years, due to advanced years and declining health, Father Graham returned to the place where he began his priesthood ministry, Saint Pius V Priory in Chicago. It was while he was assigned to this house that Father died on Friday, June 20th. Throughout his life, Fr. Graham was celebrated as a preacher whose sermons both engaged and instructed, a pastor who knew his people and their spiritual needs, a counselor whose advice was practical, sound and life-giving, and above all a Dominican priest who was faithful and generous to the Church he loved.