DORMER, HENRY EDWARD, soldier; b. 29 Nov. 1844 at Grove Park, near Warwick, England, the fourth son and youngest child of Joseph Thaddeus Dormer, 11th Baron Dormer, and Elizabeth Anne Tichborne; d. unmarried on 2 Oct. 1866 at London, Canada West.
The Dormers had largely remained Roman Catholic after the English Reformation, had provided distinguished servants for the Tudor and Stuart monarchs, and were among the more notable recusant British families; military service in British and later Austrian forces was a tradition. Henry Edward Dormer was sent to St Mary’s College, Oscott, near Birmingham, in 1855. A year later he was compelled to withdraw because of poor health and spent the next four years with private tutors. Much of the deep piety that marked his later life could be seen developing in his interest in the family’s private chapel and in his unusual thoughtfulness towards others. In 1860 he returned to St Mary’s College to prepare for the examinations for an army commission. He was gazetted ensign in the 4th battalion of the 60th Regiment (King’s Own Royal Rifles) in November 1863. An older brother was Lieutenant-General Sir James Dormer who served with the British army in Egypt in the 1880s and in India in the 1890s.
After basic training at Winchester, Henry Dormer joined his battalion at its base in Dublin. In 1865 the regiment, now absorbed into the Royal Green Jackets, was sent to London, Canada West, as part of the imperial troops guarding the Canadian frontier against Fenian attacks and possible American intervention. Dormer himself arrived in London on 24 Feb. 1866. Not yet 22 years of age and with every material advantage before him, he embarked on a life of deep Christianity and self-denial.
Dormer had been profoundly influenced spiritually by the history of his own family and by a deep attachment to the Order of Preachers or the Dominicans. A sister, to whom he was devoted, belonged to the Dominican Priory of Stone in Staffordshire, and in London he found the only Catholic church, St Peter’s, staffed by Dominican friars brought from Kentucky in 1861 by the first bishop of London, Pierre-Adolphe Pinsoneault*. Dormer’s spirituality was at once mystical and active. When off duty, and often through the night, he would worship to the point of ecstasy in either St Peter’s Church or the chapel of the Sacred Heart Convent. He also attended constantly to the poor, the sick, and the inebriated. He bestowed money, his own clothes, food, and other necessities upon those in want, and gave generously of his time and effort to the poor and lonely sick. He gave religious instruction to children at St Peter’s Church and to soldiers and brother officers if they requested it. At the end of September 1866, while nursing a woman ill from typhoid fever, he caught the disease and died from it on 2 October. He had just made up his mind to enter the Order of Preachers.
Ensign Dormer received the military funeral usually reserved for officers of higher rank. Contemporary accounts all state that at his death people said “The saint is dead!” In 1922, with devotion to Dormer’s memory still flourishing, Bishop Michael Francis Fallon* established a cultus in the diocese of London as a prelude to eventual canonization. He renewed this directive in 1930, and Bishop Thomas Kidd* gave the same encouragement in 1950. Dormer’s centennial was celebrated on 2 Oct. 1966 in London by representatives of church and state. His remains were reburied with full military honours in the military section of St Peter’s Cemetery, and a public memorial service was held.
London Free Press, 3–4 Oct. 1866. Burke’s peerage (1970), 822–24. [A. T. Drane], Biographical memoir of the Hon. Henry Edward Dormer, late of the 60th Rifles (London, 1867; repub. in A thousand arrows; biographical memoir of the Hon. Henry Edward Dormer, late of the 60th Rifles ([London, Ont., 1970]). J. K. A. Farrell [O’Farrell], “The history of the Roman Catholic Church in London, Ontario, 1826–1931” (unpublished ma thesis, University of Western Ontario, London, Ont., 1949); The world of Henry Edward Dormer in 1866, a thousand arrows; biographical memoir of the Hon. Henry Edward Dormer, late of the 60th Rifles ([London, Ont., 1970]). B. W. Kelly, The Hon. Henry Edward Dormer (King’s Royal Rifles), 1844–1866 . . . (London, 1930). J. K. A. O’Farrell, “The world of Henry Edward Dormer in 1866,” and Mary Turner, “Biographical sketch of the Honorable Henry Edward Dormer, 1844–1866,” A thousand arrows; biographical memoir of the Hon. Henry Edward Dormer, late of the 60th Rifles ([London, Ont., 1970]), 8–29 and 30–47 respectively.