CALDWELL, N.J. – Alexander A. Di Lella, OFM, 89, a professed Franciscan friar for 68 years and a priest for 63, died on March 23 at St. Catherine of Siena Nursing Home.
A wake is scheduled for 9 to 10 a.m. on March 27 at St. Bonaventure Church at 174 Ramsey Street in Paterson, N.J., the town where Alexander grew up. A 10 a.m. Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated there by Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen, OFM. Dennis Tamburello, OFM, will deliver the homily. Alexander will be buried at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Totowa, N.J.
Alexander was born on Aug. 14, 1929 in Paterson to Alessandro and Adelaide (née Grimaldi) Di Lella. After attending St. Bonaventure School, he enrolled in St. Joseph Seraphic Seminary in Callicoon, N.Y., graduating in 1947.
He was received into the Order of Friars Minor on Aug. 12, 1949, by Thomas Plassmann, OFM, in Paterson where he professed his first vows a year later. Alexander professed his final vows as a Franciscan on Sept. 17, 1953 – the feast of the Stigmata – in the chapel of Holy Name College in Washington, D.C. He was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Amleto Cicogani on Sept. 8, 1955 at Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in Washington, D.C.
Alexander spent more than half a century in academia. His first assignment was to St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, N.Y., as an English instructor where he worked from 1956 to 1958. When the Province found itself in need of an Old Testament instructor, Alexander volunteered to undergo the years of study required to gain the necessary credentials. He began at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where he earned his Licentiate of Sacred Theology in 1959 and his Doctor of Philosophy in Semitic languages – concentrating in Hebrew – 1962. His dissertation was a text-critical historical study of the Hebrew fragments of Sirach.
Alexander then earned a prestigious fellowship to the American School of Oriental Research in Jerusalem, where he worked in archeological excavation and research from 1962 to 1963. He used this experience to transition into his studies at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, where he earned his Licentiate of Sacred Scripture in 1964.
Upon his return to the States, Alexander resumed teaching, providing instruction in Greek and the Old Testament at Holy Name College from 1964 to 1967. In 1965, he returned to Catholic University of America, where he taught a variety of subjects – including Semitic languages and biblical studies – until his retirement in 2005. He also taught as an adjunct professor of Old Testament at Washington Theological Union from 1969 to 1972. From 2005 to 2010, he served as professor emeritus at Catholic University before he moved to St. Anthony Friary in St. Petersburg, Fla. In 2016, he was assigned to Holy Name Friary in Ringwood, N.J., where he lived until moving to St. Catherine of Siena Nursing Home earlier this month.
A well-respected Biblical scholar, Alexander was part of the committee that updated the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, the most widely read modern English translation, in 1989. Together with 14 of the nation’s top Jewish, Protestant and Catholic bible experts, Alex reviewed several hundred recommended changes to the Bible’s text in an effort to make the Bible more accurate in a language understandable to average readers. He provided expertise in the books of Daniel, Proverbs, Tobit and Sirach.
Alex had familiarity in multiple languages, including French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Aramaic, Syriac, Greek, Latin and Ugaritic. He was an active member of the Catholic Biblical Association and the Society of Biblical Literature, and edited multiple biblical publications. He published several books, produced several critical translations of the Bible, and wrote multiple scholarly articles and reviews.
Alexander is survived by a brother Mario Di Lella, OFM, of St. Anthony Friary in St. Petersburg.
Memorial donations may be sent to Franciscan Friars – Holy Name Province, 144 West 32nd Street, New York, NY 10001-3202.
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province. Maria Hayes provided research.
- “Catholic University Bids Farewell to Alexander Di Lella” – May 26, 2010, HNP Today
- “After 30 Years of Operation, Holy Name Friary will Close” — Jan, 9, 2019, HNP Today
- Deceased Friars page of HNP.org
- “WTU to Cease Operations a Year Earlier Than Planned” — Dec. 21, 2011, HNP Today