'God Has Blessed Me With the Gifts I Needed'

Posted: 2/8/2016

Brother Dennis CraigAfter 47 years as a Glenmarian, Brother Dennis Craig chose to become a Glenmary "senior member" on January 1, 2016. But like so many missioners when they reach age 70, he is also choosing to continue serving others.

Looking back on his diverse ministries, he said he's learned that "God has really blessed me with the gifts I needed for each one. I decided early on that I would always look for the positives in new assignments. And I ended up thoroughly enjoying every one of them. I also learned it's your relationships with people that count the most." Along the way, he even came back from a near-fatal illness and continued his work.

Dennis grew up Catholic in Anthon, Iowa—a small town of 700 people—and said that "it was a wholesome, happy life.... We had a very close family."

As a teenager, he felt drawn to a possible religious vocation and entered a college seminary following high school. He soon discerned, though, that he was not called to be a priest. "But my best friend in seminary told me about two former classmates who were studying to be Glenmary brothers. And the lifestyle they described was very appealing to me. Once I talked to the Glenmary vocation director and prayed about it, I decided it was definitely for me."

In Glenmary formation, he took courses in building construction technology and religious studies. And he joined the "Brothers Building Crew," helping build Glenmary's Cincinnati residence as well as the parish center and mission church in Grayson, Ky.

He reflects now that his first love was building: "I thought I'd work with the building crew my whole life. My dream was to also use my building skills to evangelize—by entering people's homes to do repair jobs, asking about their lives, and telling them why I do what I do."

But after 2½ years on the crew as a student and a brother, his ministry took an unexpected turn when he was given another assignment—as a parish brother residing in West Union, Ohio. He had real reservations about this change, but "I loved it! It was a huge blessing in disguise and God's work in action.

He and Father Rollie Hautz served four area missions. Brother Dennis helped with religious education; visited with and did repair work for area residents; and also led student volunteer groups and Glenmary discerners on repair and clean-up projects for local people-as outreach and evangelization.

But after the first few years there, he almost died at age 29 from blood clotting in his lungs and legs. "I should never have survived," Brother Dennis said. "By the grace of God, I did." To this day, he can't tolerate stationary standing for an extended time and has to watch his health carefully. After a year, though, he was back on the job in West Union.

Six months later, he was surprised by another proposed new assignment, this time in the Mission Office in fundraising. He believed he could do it with God's help—and said yes. "It was such a rewarding three years," he said. "I met a lot of wonderful people who supported Glenmary."

At one point, Brother Dennis mentioned to then-Glenmary president Father Bob Berson that he enjoyed working with Glenmary discerners and thought he'd be interested in formation ministry. Providentially, Father Bob was looking for a brother to be on the formation team. "So he asked me to return to school in order to prepare for this ministry," said Brother Dennis. He subsequently served in various formation roles for 12 years.

"I loved formation work. That's why I was again surprised when my next assignment was to team with a Glenmary priest in serving three new mission counties and establishing two missions in central Georgia. I spent three years ministering there with Father Chet Artysiewicz, and I really enjoyed this role."

Then in 1998, Glenmary's second vice president, Brother Jack Henn, asked him to become Cincinnati-residence house director/guest master, as well as director of senior members.

For 10 years in the first role, he was in charge of the residence and its functioning, as well as making sure all guests were welcomed and served. And for 17 years in the second role, he was responsible for coordination of senior members' care and housing, regular visits with them, and more.

"I deeply valued my relationships and friendships with these guys," Brother Dennis commented.

In 2008, he received the annual Brotherhood Witness Award from the national Religious Brothers Conference. Then-Glenmary president Father Dan Dorsey said that he was "tireless in attending to the needs of our senior members" and that he made visitors to Glenmary Headquarters feel like "part of the Glenmary family." In Father Dan's words, "Brother Dennis is truly a witness of what it means to be brother."

As his 70th birthday and the option of senior membership approached in 2015, Brother Dennis decided it was time to slow down and choose his activities.

But he definitely wants to stay active: doing minor repair work on Glenmary buildings; helping other senior members; helping keep Glenmary Headquarters' grounds beautiful; and spending more time in prayer.

"What's most important in our lives is just being present to people, listening, being sympathetic, and caring," he said. "I'm looking forward to starting another new chapter."

This article first appeared in the February 2016 Boost-A-Month Club newsletter.