Dream Becomes Reality With Kentucky Church Dedication
But in addition to caring for the spiritual needs of both communities, attending meetings at both missions and dioceses and dealing with crises as they arise, he has also been overseeing construction of the new church building in Scottsville and fundraising for future church construction in Lafayette.
As of Nov. 23, 2008, one mission's dream is now a reality—with the dedication of the new Christ the King Church in Scottsville. This community celebrated its first Mass in 1964 in a trailer, with barely enough space for its eight families. Three years later the church, office and parish hall were established in a new three-story house, where they remained for the next four decades. Now that house near the new church will be used for religious education classrooms, offices and the parish hall (until the new hall adjoining the church is completed).
"The parishioners are riding high with excitement," says Father Dennis. "The Christmas Eve midnight Mass was the most well-done liturgy I have ever seen."
In the early 1980s, there was serious discussion of building a new church in Scottsville because of the increased number of parishioners. But several families had Tennessee addresses, and the pastor soon began gathering people together for a new mission in Lafayette, Tenn. As a result, Scottsville's census temporarily declined—but rebounded within a few years, again creating a pressing need for more space.
In 1998 Father Dennis became pastor of St. Mary in Franklin, Ky., and its satellite mission, Christ the King, in Scottsville. In 2003, Glenmary returned St. Mary to the pastoral care of the Owensboro diocese and also took on Holy Family in Lafayette. Today, Father Dennis pastors both the Lafayette and Scottsville missions and lives in Lafayette.
"What looked impossible just three years ago has happened because of vision, faith, hope, generosity and dedication," said Father Dennis in the Christ the King Church dedication booklet.
One of the most providential events occurred in 2006—the week before the Scottsville Catholic community was scheduled to vote on whether to proceed with the church building campaign.
A bedfast woman in Scottsville was being cared for by a home health care worker who is a mission member. The caregiver happened to mention that her congregation was struggling to raise funds to construct a new church. The ill woman wondered aloud how she could help-and the answer she arrived at was donating $10,000 to the building fund.
This gift was announced the same Sunday that the vote was taken and it propelled the campaign forward. In the end, the congregation raised almost $425,000 through fundraisers and financial support from parishioners and non-parishioners, including a few other large gifts.
What accounts for the growth of this mission and the Lafayette mission? While bricks and mortar might be tools for building new church buildings, Father Dennis says evangelization is the tool for building the communities. That's a message he continually delivers to mission members.
"Evangelization usually takes place informally," he says, "as Catholics witness their faith to friends and neighbors in their everyday lives." The first step, he adds, is for Catholics to be more comfortable with their faith and with sharing that faith.
Father Dennis is often credited with providing a strong, low-key example. He says his approach to evangelization has been to encourage Christ the King mission members to become involved in the community, since his own time is limited because of dual responsibilities. "I'm more of an enabler than a doer," he says.
Pastoral associate Sister Davida Loosbrock provided this type of outreach for nine years. When she left the position, Father Dennis asked for volunteers to help fill these roles. One by one, individuals stepped forward to assume responsibility. Now, as parishioners carry out these commitments, they are also quietly evangelizing through their words and actions.
For the last 15 years, Sunday Mass attendance in Scottsville averaged about 65 people, he says. Since early 2008, once church construction was scheduled, that average has climbed to about 75. The mission has seen growth and success.
But Father Dennis also sees much work to be done. "We'll continue to earn the right to serve the county by being part of the community," he says. And they'll continue to build the Kingdom of God.
This article originally appeared in the February 2009 Boost-A-Month Club newsletter.