Father Joseph James Heyd
Father Joseph Heyd

Born: Peoria, Illinois, May 1, 1930

Professed: July 11, 1951

Ordained: September 22, 1956

Died: April 4, 2013

We request your prayers for our deceased confrere, Father Joseph James Heydwho died Thursday morning, April 4, 2013 in St. Joseph Nursing Home, Lacon, IL, where he had been a patient since last August, suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease.

Father Joseph was born in Peoria, IL, on May 1, 1930, the eldest of two sons and three daughters of Wilbert and Alice Martin Heyd, and baptized as James Wilbert. Four of his mother’s brothers had become priests, and two of them, Fathers Boniface and Patrick Martin, were also monks of our community. One of her sisters had likewise become a Holy Cross nun, and one of Fr. Joseph’s sisters was to enter the Dominican community at Sinsinawa, WI.

He was a bright student and, after eight years under the Dominican sisters at St. Bernard’s parochial school, he attended Spalding Institute, the Peoria Catholic high school for boys that was staffed by our monks from 1933 until 1950. He then came to St. Bede in 1948 for the two years of junior college that we then offered, upon completion of which he applied for entry into the monastic community in 1950.

After novitiate and simple profession in July of 1951, he completed his college studies at St. John’s University, Collegeville, MN, followed by three years in our own school of theology, together with some teaching experience in our Academy. After ordination to the priesthood on September 22, 1956, he then spent an additional two years in theological study at the Collegio di Sant’ Anselmo in Rome, where he received the STL degree in 1958.

Father Joseph’s principal interest and talent, however, were in the field of art, which he had already begun to study under Frank Kacmarcic at St. John’s University. In the following years he gradually developed his techniques, first in calligraphy and painting and then in sculpture, working both in metal and in stone, with the assistance of instructors at several different institutions for varying periods of time.

These included the  Art Institute of Chicago (1958 and 1961-62), the University of Notre Dame (1959), Webster College at Webster Grove, MO (1965-66), the Otis Art Institute at Los Angeles, CA (1968-69), and the San Francisco Art Institute (1971-72), where he earned the MFA degree in 1972. During this period he also served as chairman of the art department at St. Bede Academy and began to build up a collection of his own works.

Since insurance companies frowned upon kilns and welding equipment in school buildings, Fr. Joseph developed the round barn that had formerly housed our dairy herd into a sculpture studio, and there executed his major works, principally in fulfillment of commissions. When the studio burned down in 1997, the cause, paradoxically, was not his acetylene torches, but a routine brush fire. The new building that replaced it contains a modest gallery of his smaller works.

In addition to these, he created, among other sculptures, a monumental bronze statue of internationally famous violinist Maud Powell, a native of Peru, IL, commissioned by local citizens to decorate a new plaza in the city, a statue of St. Mark the Evangelist and his symbolic lion that stands outside St. Mark’s Church in Peoria; a statue of St. Francis of Assisi in the village park at Hennepin, IL, a statue of Mary, Mother of the Church at St. Monica’s Parish in East Peoria (a duplicate copy of which stands in the grass courtyard at St. Bede next to the abbey building), and a steel statue of the Risen Christ in the St. Bede Abbey Church.

In 1994, upon retiring from teaching, Fr. Joseph was assigned as part-time associate pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Peru, where he resided for the next fifteen years, assisting in the parish while also continuing his art work at the abbey on most afternoons. Upon the onset of Alzheimer’s disease in 2009, he returned to full-time residence at the abbey, where he remained until his transfer to St. Joseph’s Nursing Home.

In addition to the monastic community of St. Bede Abbey, Father Joseph is survived by his three sisters, Mrs. Joan Schaber and Mrs. Patricia Callaway, both of Peoria, and Sister Mary Ann Heyd, O.P. of Sinsinawa, WI. He was preceded in death by his parents and by his younger brother, Attorney Charles Heyd of Cincinnati, OH.

Abbot Philip Davey, OSB and community

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