March 8, 2016

Fr. Hilary Hayden of our community died on February 24, one day after his 87th birthday. He had grown up in nearby Chevy Chase, Maryland, where his grade-school years at Blessed Sacrament parish imbued in him a love of the liturgy, for he later wrote that some of the hymns he then sang became “printed in my memory.” After graduating from St. John’s College High School he began his undergraduate studies at St. John’s College in Annapolis, where he heard about the excellence of the high school conducted by the Benedictine monks at what was then St Anselm’s Priory. Visits to the priory, where he was impressed not only by the dedication of the monks to their work in the monastery school but also—and even more—by the liturgy as he experienced it during Holy Week, led him to enter the community, where he received the name Hilary. Several years of study at Sant’Anselmo, and in particular the course on the Church given by Dom Cipriano Vaggagini, helped prepare him to become an enthusiastic supporter for the implementation of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council a decade later.

After ordination to the priesthood in 1956 and graduate studies in classical languages at the University of Michigan, Fr Hilary taught Latin and Greek in our school for eighteen years, after which he embarked on some further study, especially of Scripture, at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. That was followed by two decades of pastoral work in northern Virginia, including several years as chaplain for the Benedictine Sisters in Bristow. Upon returning to live at St Anselm’s in 1993, he served as guestmaster, as an associate editor for the Liturgical Conference, and as a spiritual advisor for the Teams of Our Lady. His final years were marked by the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and profound deafness, but he bore these trials with patience. After his death, a longtime friend wrote a heartfelt tribute to him that included these words: “Hilary embodied the ‘gentle Christ,’ despite his irascible temperament. He was always humble before God and never judgmental, and he never, ever stopped being in awe of the immensity of the love of God. His guidepost was always the Paschal mystery.”

St. Benedict concludes the prologue to his Rule with the words: “Faithfully observing [God’s] teaching in the monastery until death, we shall through patience share in the sufferings of Christ that we may deserve to share also in his kingdom.” We trust that Fr Hilary, having shared in Christ’s sufferings, has indeed deserved to share also in his kingdom.

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