Fr. Paul Aquinas Duffner was the eldest member of the Western Dominicans. He is also one of the few to have served at the northern and southern limits of the Western Province’s ministries. “It would be hard to imagine a greater contrast,” he’d laugh, as he’d talk about the snow that greeted him at Holy Family Parish in Anchorage, Alaska, and the tropical jungles that were his home for the eight years he served as a missionary in Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico. It all began when Fr. Duffner received the habit of the Order of Preachers as a novice brother in 1934. He made his first profession of vows as a friar, September 15, 1935, and he was ordained to the priesthood December 21, 1940.
Shortly after his ordination, Fr. Duffner would begin a lifetime promoting devotion to the Rosary. “I was assigned to St. Dominic Parish in San Francisco, and we had a number of small, individual societies and groups focused on the Rosary,” Fr. Duffner would recall. “I thought, ‘why not bring them together and write some sort of common bulletin for them to meditate on?’” What Fr. Duffner could not have foreseen was the success of his venture. The groups united under the banner of the Rosary Confraternity, and The Rosary Bulletin became their meditation tool. In those early years, Fr. Duffner also served as secretary to the Provincial, parochial vicar, and Director of the Third Order.
From 1947 to 1958, Fr. Duffner was Master of Novices in Kentfield, California. From 1959 to 1962, he served briefly as parochial vicar in Vallejo, California, and then as chaplain to the Dominican sisters in Kettle Falls, Washington. He returned to Thousand Oaks, California, as Novice Master from 1962 to 1966. After a brief time and various roles in San Francisco and Saratoga, Fr. Duffner served as a missionary in Chiapas, Mexico, from 1967 to 1975. In that year, when Fr. Duffner returned from Mexico to assume the reins as pastor at Holy Rosary Parish in Portland, Oregon, he joined forces with Fr. Thomas Feucht, who had six years before begun publishing Light and Life: Theology for the Laity. The result is a newsletter that is sent around the globe, and whose readers make a significant contribution to the Province’s students and retired members. Fr. Duffner was pastor of Holy Rosary until 1981. He then served as parochial vicar in Anchorage, Alaska, until 1983, and returned finally to Portland to serve as Director of the Rosary Center and Confraternity, which he would continue to do until just a few years ago.
When North American Dominican leaders of the Rosary devotion met at St. Albert Priory, together with the Dominican Order’s director from Rome, all were astounded at the Western Province’s roughly eighty-year history of careful, increasingly organized and developed efforts to promote devotion to the Rosary. Thanks to Fr. Duffner, the Western Province’s results are unique, and he did it all while ministering to the Province and God’s people in so many other ways.
Services will be at Holy Rosary Parish, 375 NE Clackamas Street, Portland. The Vigil will be on December 3 at 7:00 PM. The funeral Mass will be on December 4 at 12:00 PM. Donations in Fr. Duffner’s memory, to support the mission of his beloved Rosary Center in Portland and the education and formation of Dominican students brothers and novices, can be sent to: Western Dominican Province, 5877 Birch Ct., Oakland, CA 94618-1627 or online here.
See the photo gallery of Fr. Duffner’s life here.