Old St. Pat’s had a only a few people in its pews when Red Dwyer helped plan a bash there in 1984 that grew into the World’s Largest Block Party, an event that draws thousands and helped foster a renaissance of the church – not to mention a lot of marriages.
“Red organized a group of tradesmen, and they came and they built all the stages, wired the electricity for the bands, and procured the tables,” said friend and fellow organizer Jim Sweany.
“He roped everyone into helping him, and favors, and did it all — it didn’t cost anything,” said his daughter Kerry Ann. “It turned out great. He was very proud of it.”
It was fitting because Mr. Dwyer’s grandmother, Mary Ellen Ryan, is believed to be the first child baptized at Old St. Pat’s church, on the day before the building’s dedication in 1856. Built by Irish immigrants, it grew into a flourishing place of worship with a congregation laced with politicians and other power players.
Mr. Dwyer, whose family went from immigration to influence, died May 19 at Loyola University Medical Center after being diagnosed with cancer, said his son Mark. The Forest Park resident was 85.
A third-generation plumber, he planned corned beef dinners and St. Patrick’s Day masses for Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which is sponsored by Local 130 of the plumbers’ union. And he did fundraising for the Christian Brothers, the Irish Fellowship Club, and scholarships for Catholic education. Today, his family has expanded to five generations of plumbers.
Two weeks before his death, he was enjoying himself at the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. He even won a few bets, his son said.
Young Red – who got the nickname because of his red hair – grew up in the old parish of St. Mel’s at 4301 W. Washington. After graduating in the Class of 1950 from St. Pat’s High School, he served in the Army in Germany after World War II.
“Red learned his politics from his Uncle Paddy Murphy,” who was active in First Ward politics, Sweany said. Mr. Dwyer “was like ancestry.com for Chicago. He knew who was related to whom.”
His grandmother Mary Ellen Ryan and her nine brothers and sisters were active with Holy Family Church on Roosevelt Road. “She went to mass there every day until she died at 93,” said Mr. Dwyer’s daughter Cindy. And his aunt, Helen Dwyer, was a secretary for the Cudahy meat-packing family. His Holy Family and Cudahy connections resulted in his company – Dwyer Plumbing – doing repairs at many churches, Cindy Dwyer said.
“He probably knew every pastor in the archdiocese,” said Mark Dwyer.
Whether someone needed help with a leaky faucet or assistance in finding a caterer, “he was always helping people,” Sweany said. “Every conversation with him, he’d ask, ‘Everything OK?’’ If somebody had a problem, he’d say “‘I’m going to call one of my guys. I’ll get back to you.’ His ‘guys’ were any person he knew.”
He had a zingy Chicago way of telling a story, Sweany said, like when Mr. Dwyer recalled his mother complaining about the retirement community she moved to in the suburbs. “ ‘I wanna get outta here,’ ” she told Mr. Dwyer. “ ‘All they do is talk about their daughter the Phd, their son the lawyer and their son the surgeon.’ ”
“Just tell them your son is a drain surgeon,” Mr. Dwyer replied.
“Red loved to organize parties,” Sweany said. He helped coordinate a jazz fest for Holy Family Church and “Bene-Fest” for the Christian Brothers.
“He was very active in fundraising for the [Irish Fellowship] club to help us reach our mission of giving scholarship money so less fortunate children could attend Catholic high schools,” said Chris Kozicki, the group’s president.
Mr. Dwyer is also survived by his daughter Colleen Dwyer, sons Gerald and Gregory, 13 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. His former wife Lauretta died before him. Services, arranged by Gamboney & Sons, have been held.