Henry Edward Dormer was born November 29,1844 at Grove Park, County Warwick, England, the youngest son of the eleventh Lord Dormer. Little is known of his early life, except that he was a sensitive child who was quite delicate in health. His early studies and first communion were made at St. Mary’s College, Oscott (now the diocesan seminary but then a boarding school), but at the age of twelve he contracted rheumatic fever and for five years was tutored privately in England, Belgium, Germany and Ireland.
At the age of 19, young Dormer returned to Oscott where he completed his studies for entrance into the army. It was here that he made a retreat under Father Rudolph Suffield, a Dominican friar, which apparently changed his whole outlook on life. After passing his exams, Dormer was gazetted to a commission in the 60th Regiment (King’s Own Royal Rifles). In January 1866, he was ordered to join his regiment at London, Canada, stationed here at that time to counteract Fenian plans to invade Canada. He arrived in London on February 22, 1866, and his first impressions of the city, as described in a letter to his mother, were none too flattering: I am afraid there is not much exaggeration in the abusive account everyone gives to this place, writing to his mother: “ It has positively no resources of its own, no shooting, no fishing, no skating, and a very indifferent society, no libraries, no clubs and no walks except a high road up to your knees in mud”. -By September of that year, it was evident to his brother officers and the Catholics of London that Dormer was leading a life of selfless devotion to God.
His prayer life often included whole nights of prayer and he attended regularly to the needs of the poor, the sick, and the elderly. In addition to his time and effort, he bestowed money, his own clothes, food and other necessities to those in want. He also gave religious instruction to children and to soldiers, if they requested it. All this time, Dormer wrestled in his own life with the question of a religious vocation.
At the end of September 1866, while nursing a woman ill with typhoid fever, Dormer caught the disease and died on October 2nd. he was only twenty-one years of age and had just decided to enter the Dominican novitiate. Word of his death spread quickly and, according to contemporary newspaper accounts, the most common exclamation of the people was “The saint is dead!” His funeral was one of the largest recorded in the city, and he was buried with military honours in St. Peter’s Cemetery.