RJC Note: The following obituary is written by Brother Paul J. Murray, The Oratory York, England. He is a graduate of the Boston Archdiocesan Choir School, class of 1996 (currently known as Saint Paul’s Choir School in Harvard Square). He is the former Choirmaster and Organist at the Church of Our Saviour – New York, New York and The Church of the Holy Family “The United Nations Parish” – New York, New York. Murray served as Assistant Editor to John Dunn, Senior Editor of recent updates of the Theodore Marier Psalter first published in Hymns, Psalms, and Spiritual Canticles (1974, 1983) written about here in 2020. The work continues, and look here for updates.OHN G. DUNN died peacefully at his home in Watertown, Massachusetts on Saturday, December 17, at the age of 79. A graduate of Harvard College and Boston University, John Dunn studied organ with Theodore Marier, George Faxon, and Max Miller. For many, John’s name is synonymous with St. Paul’s Church, Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he worked in one capacity or another from 1960 until 2010. As a Harvard freshman, he persuaded Theodore Marier, St. Paul’s legendary organist and music director, to take him on as an organ student. John initially played the organ for the Sunday Student Mass at St. Paul’s.
IN 1963 UPON THE FOUNDING of Saint Paul’s Choir School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, John joined the faculty where he taught math, music theory, Ward Method, piano, recorder, and organ. He also served as Assistant Music Director and Organist under Marier. In 1974, as the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Boston began to withdraw from St. Paul’s, John became Principal of the Boston Archdiocesan Choir School and in 1986, upon the retirement of Dr. Marier, John became the Choir School’s second Music Director, a position he held concurrent with his duties as Principal. In 1998, he became Headmaster-Music Director. He retired from St. Paul’s after fifty years of dedicated service in 2010 and was named Headmaster-Music Director Emeritus.
An active member of the Boston American Guild of Organists (AGO) chapter for many years, John earned the Fellowship and Choir Master diplomas of the Guild and served the Boston Chapter in numerous capacities. He was an ardent supporter of the Boston AGO’s Young Organist Initiative and always encouraged his young organ students to apply for scholarships, attend Pipe Organ Encounters, and take AGO certification exams. In retirement, John served on the Executive Committee of the Boston AGO and substituted as organist in churches throughout the Boston area.
DUNN WAS A SKILLED HYMN WRITER. Most of his hymn texts were written specifically for Theodore Marier’s hymnal, Hymns, Psalms, and Spiritual Canticles (1974, 1983). Some of these hymns have found their way into various Christian hymnals throughout the English-speaking world.
John was a gifted service player and accompanist. As assistant to Theodore Marier, he played for the funerals of John Cardinal Wright and Richard Cardinal Cushing, the visit of Pope Saint John Paul II to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, and the Installations of Archbishop Humberto Medeiros and Archbishop Bernard Law. He was an active recitalist and performed throughout New England, including performances at the Methuen Memorial Music Hall, Trinity Church, Boston, Mechanics Hall, Harvard’s Memorial Church and the Busch-Reisinger Museum.
DURING JOHN’S YEARS AS MUSIC DIRECTOR, the Choir School under the title “Boston Boy Choir”, toured in Chicago, Montreal, Rome, and Washington, produced several recordings, collaborated with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood, the Boston Pops at Symphony Hall, and sang at countless concerts, weddings, and funerals throughout the Archdiocese of Boston, including the nationally televised funerals of the late Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, matriarch of the Kennedy Family.
Self-described as working “full-time, overtime, and all-the-time,” one wondered if John ever slept or if he lived out of his office at the Choir School. John enjoyed traveling, cooking, and swimming in his spare time.
John always said that he was very privileged to work closely with Theodore Marier and always spoke about Dr. Marier with great fondness. Immediately prior to his death, John, in collaboration with Choir School alumnus Paul Murray, completed a revision of Marier’s signature psalmody to conform to the new liturgical texts that have been implemented in the Catholic Church since the psalms were published in Dr. Marier’s hymnal. For many, John’s death marks the end of a direct link to Theodore Marier.
ALWAYS HAVING TREASURED HIS TIME spent with the boys, John Dunn was always eager to hear from alumni who had gone on to highly successful careers, musical and otherwise, and who pointed to their attending the Choir School as a defining moment in their lives. The Choir School would not exist today without John Dunn’s vision, dedication, and talent. He was a great mentor and friend to his colleagues and former students and he will be missed by his family, friends, and students.
May he rest in peace and may God console those who mourn.
Brother Paul Murray The Oratory York, England Boston Archdiocesan Choir School, Class of 1996