Reverend John Byron Diman (1863-1949) was born in Brookline, Massachusetts to a prominent Rhode Island family of French-Huguenot origin, a branch of which settled in Bristol. The family’s surname has been spelled in several ways including “Diamont ” and “Diamond.” John’s grandfather Byron was the Law and Order governor of Rhode Island in 1846-47; another relative, Francis M. Diamond served as governor in 1853-54 as a Democrat. John’s father, Jeremiah Lewis Diman, D.D., was a Congregational minister and a noted Brown University professor of History and Political Economy. The professor and his wife, Emily Stimson, had four children, among whom John was the second oldest.
Like his father, John had a strong interest in religion. Unlike his father he chose Episcopalianism after his graduation from Brown University in 1885 and received the degree of Batchelor of Divinity in 1885 from the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1896, he earned a master of arts diploma from Harvard.
In 1888 John was ordained a deacon but never received priestly ordination in the Episcopal Church. In that year, he became the first permanent rector of the newly-established St. Columba’s Church in Middletown. For the next several years he alternated between his clerical duties and teaching assignments at the University Grammar School in Providence.
In the fall of 1896, Reverend Diman opened a boarding and day school for boys with his sister Emily on Catherine Street in Newport that evolved into the prestigious St. George’s School. Under Diman’s direction it moved to its present Middletown campus in 1901. At that time, Diman’s teaching chores included instruction in English and Latin.
Not content with educating the elite, John Diman developed plans for creating a vocational facility in the public school system. He chose Fall River for this educational experiment donating $2,500 in support of the venture. It opened in December, 1912 in the basement room of the John J. McDonough School with twelve high school “drop-outs’ who began courses in mechanical drawing and wood-working. Under the direction of Frederick H. Rundall for its first thirty years, Diman Industrial, now Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School, has become a valuable educational asset for the youth of Greater Fall River.
In late October 1916, John Diman announced his retirement as founding headmaster of St. George’s at the conclusion of the 1916-17 academic term after twenty-one years in that post, observing that “perfect harmony exists in the councils of the school.” Though not then clear to surprised and disappointed students and alumni, Diman had begun his conversion to the Roman Catholic Church, a process explained by Diman in 1942 via a lengthy article in the national Catholic newspaper, Our Sunday Visitor.
Diman formally embraced Catholicism on December 16, 1917 and went to England during World War I becoming a Captain in the British Red Cross. After the armistice, he studied theology in Rome and at Fort Augustus, Scotland, parent abbey of the English Benedictine house at Washington, D.C. This experience and a developing friendship with another convert, Father Henry P. Sargent, led Diman to take his priestly vows at Belmont Abbey, North Carolina in 1921 as a member of the Benedictine Order.
Though Diman changed religion and his name to Reverend Dom John Hugh Diman, O.S.B., he never wavered in his commitment to education and what he termed “the spirit of social service.” This passion was recognized by his Benedictine superiors, who decided to open a school in Portsmouth, Rhode Island on waterfront land called Hall Manor acquired in 1919 by the Benedictines through the efforts of Father Sargent and Bishop Matthew Harkins. When the Abbot of Fort Augustus decided to establish a school at Portsmouth in 1925, he naturally selected Father Hugh Diman to be its founding headmaster. Though Father Hugh was hesitant, because of Portsmouth Priory School’s proximity to St. George’s, he directed his third foundation (save for intervals in 1932-34) until retiring in 1942. During that tenure he had also served as Prior, the Abbey’s spiritual director.