The Rev. James Farrell Didas, S.S.J., a member of the Josephite Fathers for 67 years and former editor of the religious order's magazine, died Monday of respiratory failure at St. Joseph's Manor in North Baltimore. He was 91.
For 18 years, he edited the Josephite Harvest from an office at Calvert and Biddle streets. The monthly magazine contains articles and pictures on Roman Catholic schools and parishes for African-Americans staffed by the religious order.
"He read 50 newspapers a week and was a legendary proofreader," said the Rev. Peter E. Hogan, S.S.J., the order's archivist. "I gave him my dissertation to read, and he found so many errors, I thought I would have to rewrite it."
In a 1998 article in the Catholic Review, Father Didas recalled an incident in which he deleted a number of commas from an article written by another priest. His superior questioned his editing."[The writer] must have taken a box of commas, thrown them in the air and let them drop anywhere at all," Father Didas recalled. "I defended my action by asking him, 'What do you want me to be, a secretary or an editor?'"
Born in Rochester, N.Y., he was a graduate of St. Bernard Theological Seminary there and St. Joseph Seminary and Catholic University of America -- both in Washington -- where he earned a master's degree in philosophy in 1933.
In 1960, Father Didas was named rector of his alma mater, St. Joseph Seminary. Six years later, he was appointed director of the Josephite mission office in Baltimore, where he raised funds to support needy parishes.
In the early 1970s, he served as assistant pastor of St. Pius V Roman Catholic Church in West Baltimore. He also was an assistant chaplain at St. Joseph Medical Center and heard confessions twice a week at St. Alphonsus Roman Catholic Church in downtown Baltimore.
In 1974, he became rector of St. Joseph Manor, his order's 32-acre retirement home in the Poplar Hill community of North Baltimore, where typically he worked throughout the day on a tractor, harvesting crops and trimming grass.
"His roots in upstate, rural New York were manifest in his love of farming and animals," said the Rev. Eugene P. McManus, S.S.J. "He raised produce in the spring, summer and fall to enrich the lives of the patients and to keep food costs under control."
A Mass of Christian burial for Father Didas will be offered at 11 a.m. today at St. Joseph Manor, 911 W. Lake Ave.
He is survived by two nieces, Mary Ellen Smith of Dansville, N.Y., and Beverly Cotter of Rochester.