The Cardinal Dery Story

Two months before his 90th birthday, a curtain was drawn on the distinguished life of Peter Cardinal Porekuu Dery. His earthly remains rest in Tamale, Ghana where a state burial was held in his honor. What lives on is a remarkable legacy that manifests itself in the human potential he salvaged, nurtured and cared for. He was a devout and humble man, yet he had the ability to infuse passion in the flock he so loved for those things he knew they needed:

  • Education – for education is the gateway to economic development.
  • Water – the source of all life.
  • Healing – so his flock would survive to flourish.

It is impossible to say just how many individuals were saved, or changed or lifted up by Cardinal Dery, but the list is long. Many of his former students now serve as clergy, physicians, university professors, educators, engineers, journalists, attorneys and business leaders.

Cardinal Dery’s life is replete with firsts: Born on May 10, 1918, he was among the first ever Ghanaians baptized in the Upper West of that nation. He was the first member of the Dagomba people to be ordained a priest, as well as the first person of Northern Ghana extraction to become a bishop. He was the first Bishop of Wa, and later the first Archbishop of Tamale. He was one of the only two Bishops appointed as members of the Pontifical Council of the Laity and he served as Chairman in charge of Lay Apostolate for all of Africa.

As bishop in charge of youth affairs, he had a great impact on the lives of others. William B. Coleman, a naturilized US citizen, was born in  Ghana.  His birth name is Ato Kwamina.  Coleman was mentored and grew to become a lay leader under Bishop Dery. Now president of Coleman and Williams, a CPA firm in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he gives great credit to Cardinal Dery for his success.

“As a leader in the Young Christian Student Movement, I was greatly inspired by Cardinal Dery. He was a mentor, a father and a teacher. He opened doors and guided me,” Coleman says. “He inspired both by his deep faith in God, and by his belief in the potential of the human spirit. Thanks to him, I found the courage to leave Ghana to travel abroad, not only furthering my education, but expanding the scope of what I’ve been able to do for others.”

 Cardinal Dery’s penchant for youth and good works motivated Coleman to establish the Archbishop Dery Foundation (now the Cardinal Dery Foundation). In a few short years, the Foundation has built wells in northern Ghana, provided scholarships for scores of young people, and provided support for basic health care needs. Often Coleman delivers support checks in person, traveling at his own expense.

“I would not be able to do these things had it not been for the guidance and inspiration I received from Cardinal Dery,” Coleman says. “Even those who have never met him are affected when they hear his story and see evidence of what he has done.”

Cardinal Dery was the son of Poreku, one of the first Ghanaian converts to Catholicism. His given name, Der, simply means “born after the death of another male child.” After his father’s conversion, Der was sent to Jirapa, Ghana, at the age of fourteen to become a catechist so he could return and teach his people the new religion. He joined the first group of catechumens in Ghana, and on Christmas Eve of 1932, he was baptized. He took the name Peter in honor of St. Peter, the first of the Apostles. He also added “y” to his name and thus was known as Peter Dery from then on.

Dery was quick to learn reading and writing, impressing the missionaries so much that they pushed him into formal education. In 1934, at the age of 16, he was sent to Navrongo and enrolled in the primary school there. After completing that course of study in 1939, he enrolled in Minor Seminary to study for the priesthood. He was ordained February 11th, 1951 – the first Dagao in Ghana to be ordained a priest.

Father Dery was appointed curate in Nandom and Assistant General Manager of Catholic Schools in the Tamale diocese, thus beginning his long journey of interaction with youth.

In 1957 a series of opportunities to gain international exposure and greater technical expertise presented themselves. He was awarded a one-year scholarship by the Knights of Columbus to study the Credit Union Movement and Co-Operative Management at St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada. He then gained admission to the International Catechetical Institute – Lumen Vitae – in Brussels, Belgium for a one-year program in Catechetics and Pastoral Studies.

When he returned to Ghana in 1959 he was appointed Vicar General of the Tamale diocese and Cathedral Administrator. Soon after the Holy See divided the Tamale diocese, carving out the new diocese of Wa. On March 16, 1960, Rev. Peter Poreku Dery was nominated Bishop of Wa. He was consecrated Bishop by Pope John XXIII on the 8th of May, 1960, in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Dery served in that capacity and in 1972 assumed additional responsibilities as Apostolic Administrator for the Tamale Diocese. In 1977 he was officially installed at Archbishop of Tamale.

Sixteen years later, at the age stipulated by Canon Law for Bishops to retire, he submitted his request for release. Initially the Holy Father denied the request with a succinct “Nunc pro tunc.” (Not until we can replace you). Although he was officially allowed to retire a year later due to a stroke, Dery continued to inspire and work for young people, with particular attention to encouraging priestly vocations. His efforts to encourage spiritual growth and to promote Christian values in all people never faltered.

Archbishop Dery was elected to the College of Cardinals in February, 2006 as a result of his work with youth. He traveled to Rome and was among the first group of Cardinals installed by Pope Benedict XVI. After a distinguished life of service, Cardinal Dery died on March 6, 2008

The Cardinal Dery Foundation, headquartered in Glendale, Wisconsin, was inspired by Cardinal Dery’s life. Its mission is to provide education, health care, and the most basic element of life – water – to those who need it in Ghana.

In just a few years the Foundation has completed five wells and continues to seek suitable ground for future installations which, given the geography of north Ghana, is difficult due to impenetrable rock and rainy season delays. 

Dery scholarships have educated dozens of young people from Ghana, establishing an educational base from which they can grow into productive individuals.

Health care support is the third, and equal, priority of the Foundation.

All Dery Foundation activities are possible through the generosity of friends inspired by Cardinal Dery’s lifelong example of giving. A series of “Well Parties,” for example, has brought in nearly $30,000 to support Dery Foundation initiatives.

The Cardinal Dery Foundation is a 501(c)(3) Charity devoted to significantly improving the physical, spiritual and intellectual lives of the people of Ghana by providing these basics: clean water, education and health care. Please contact us if you would like a speaker to address your organization, or if you are interested in making a donation.  Our contact information is: Phone: 414-278-0170   Fax:414-278-1169   Address: 7127 N. Green Bay Avenue, Glendale, WI 53209
© 2021 The Cardinal Dery Foundation