In previous posts, I have often written about Fr. Dennis, the current pastor of the of the Catholic churchs in Duquesne; Holy Name, St. Hedwig’s and St. Joseph’s. All three churchs are part of the Christ the Light of the World Parish.
Although I have not been a member of Holy Name since 1972, my heart and faith has always been deeply rooted in that parish.
The reason for why I feel this way, is due to Fr. Dennis, plain and simple. Fr. Dennis epitomizes the words “Father, Priest and Pastor.” When he first arrived on the scene at Holy Name over 31 years ago, every parishioner was like a deer in headlights. As Fr. Dennis began to introduce a more “enthusiastic” liturgy and celebration of the Mass, I know many of the older, more traditional Catholics, were scratching their heads and muttering “What the heck!!!!”
Since I wasn’t a parishioner when Fr. Dennis arrived, I had to rely on reports from by father and Aunt Mary to learn more about their new pastor. My dad seemed to be undaunted by Fr. Dennis and his larger-than-life persona. He loved to hear him sing and he enjoyed his sermons each week. My Aunt Mary (Goldman) on the other hand, was initially huffy-puffy about Father D. I remember her telling me….”I don’t understand him! He’s out in the front yard of the rectory releasing doves! ” or “People are clapping after his sermon, and he allows it!” In the 18 years that followed Fr. Dennis’ arrival before Aunt Mary’s death in December, 2000, she began to come around to the type of liturgy that Fr. Dennis brought to Holy Name with him.
Aunt Mary ran the Holy Name Flea Market for about 10 years and worked very closely with Fr. Dennis. At first, her hackles were raised quite a bit! “Who does he think he is, telling me how to run a flea market!!” She complied nonetheless, and confessed to me a bit later that all of his ideas worked! Being bull-headed, that ticked her off too. Within a very short amount of time, Aunt Mary became a stanch supporter of Fr. Dennis and all of the wonderful changes that he made to the way people celebrated Christ.
In spite of the fact that I wasn’t a member of the parish, my admiration, love and respect for Fr. Dennis comes from a different perspective. First of all, I loved the fact that my dad thought the world of Fr. Dennis. I remember attending mass at St. Hedwig’s with my dad whenever I would visit. After Mass had ended and we were leaving the building, Fr. Dennis would always be standing at the exit and have a big smile and his hand out to shake my dad’s as he said “Hi Steve!” That simple act mean the world to my dad. I remember him say to me “See Jim, Fr. Dennis even knows my name!” THAT is the effect that Fr. Dennis has on people.
To this day, I still feel that Fr. Dennis’ celebration of the Eucharist stands in a class by itself for me. Hearing him speak, appreciating his passion for shepherding his parishioners and witnessing the involvement of the congregation in the rites of the Mass, is unparalleled. I contend that if you are fortunate enough to attend a Mass that is being celebrated by Fr. Dennis, you REALLY feel that you have been to Mass!!
As you know, in April of 2013, Fr. Dennis announced to his parish that he had received a preliminary diagnosis that indicated that he may have ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. ALS, is a disease of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement. ALS is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Unfortunately, as time unfolded, it was confirmed that Fr. Dennis did indeed have ALS.
Last year in a post titled “A Deluge of Prayers,” I wrote:
The power of prayer in itself is remarkable. I think we all believe that as part of our very being. However, the power of Duquesne prayer has proven itself to be very powerful. It was just 7 days ago that we all learned about the news of Fr. Dennis’ diagnosis. After the call for a Duquesne Deluge of Prayer, this blog saw its highest EVER viewing of a post since I first began the blog two and a half years ago. The post calling for prayers was viewed over 2500 times in less than one week!
I was thrilled when I saw an announcement on Facebook that announced a “Flicker of Hope” regarding Fr. Dennis’ diagnosis. I am posting his “From the Pastor’s Desk” column from Sunday’s bulletin. We need to continue with our prayers to assure that the “flicker of hope” turns quickly into a deluge of hope for Fr. Dennis. We did it once, so let’s not stop the momentum!!
From the Pastor’s Desk – April 14, 2013
Last weekend, when the “bomb” on my most recent health diagnosis was dropped, an immediate volcanic eruption of love and prayers for me was released into the universe. I truly believe that this eruption has caused the “Flicker of Hope” that I received on Monday afternoon. On my visit to my primary care physician, he informed me that I have “lower body muscular neuron disease.” He informed me that the disease takes on many forms or personalities and sometimes masks itself as another disease. A definite diagnosis is confirmed only after a series of elimination tests. He told me at this point, based on the results and evidence “It is inconclusive that I have full-blown ALS/Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” This news is a “flicker of hope.” He was at a loss why the neurologist diagnosed me last Thursday with get your affairs in order, tell your family, you have 3 to 5 years. I believe that the eruption of prayers and love caused this flicker. The positive energy caused by the love and prayers is real and present. After one year of visiting various doctors and not receiving any positive results, I am going to hold on to this “good news” as a hopeful sign. I am going to live life to the best of my ability and to its fullest. When the time comes for my final diagnosis, then I will deal with it as best as I can.
Good things and blessings from this have already happened. People are talking to each other, people are praying more than they have in quite a while. Much more is there to be learned on this transitional journey.
Thank You: for the outpouring of love, prayers and concern….for the cards, emails, gifts, flowers, food, etc….for anyone who has offered help and assistance….I am humbled and grateful for your love and prayers.
The Next Steps: The next step in this ongoing process is that I have an appointment with the ALS Clinic and Dr. Lacomis in Pgh. on May 6 for testing, recommendations, etc. On June 10, I meet again with my PCP to go over the results and decide on the next steps and a course of action if necessary.
In the 15 months since my post and Fr. Dennis’ initial announce, a lot has changed in his life. The diagnosis of ALS was confirmed and he has been bravely dealing with all of the aspects of the disease without complaint. The sanctuary of Holy Name has been remodeled and an elevator installed in the rectory. He gets around with a walker or scooter and recently was fitted for a wheelchair. He no longer is able to drive because he’s lost use of his right leg. The loss of simple movements have left Fr. Dennis an undaunted spirit and determination to continue to minister to his parishioners.
Recently, throughout the nation, there has been a outpouring in support of donations to the ALS Association via an internet viral sensation known as the “Ice Bucket Challange.” Simply stated, the “Ice Bucket Challange” is an activity involving dumping a bucket of ice water on one’s head to promote awareness of the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and encourage donations to research. It went viral throughout social media during mid 2014. The challenge then dares nominated participants to be filmed having a bucket of ice water poured on their heads and challenging others to do the same. A common stipulation is that nominated people have 24 hours to comply or forfeit by way of a charitable financial donation.
On Saturday, August 23, 2014, the Christ the Light of the World Parish AND the City of Duquesne watched as the challenge took an unlikely twist. Fr. Dennis has challenged Bishop Zubik of the Diocese of Pittsburgh to the ice bucket challenge! The news of the challenge spread as far as San Francisco where the news appeared in a newspaper in San Francisco. I have posted a video of the challenge, few articles about Fr’ Dennis’ challange, as well as pictures of the “Mass of Healing” that was celebrated by Bishop Zubik at Holy Name, prior to the challange.
Please remember to keep Fr. Dennis in your prayers!
For Duquesne priest, Ice Bucket Challenge is personal
By Carol Waterloo Frazier Friday, Aug. 22, 2014, 3:46 a.m.
A Catholic priest in Duquesne has invited his bishop to take part in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge on Saturday.
The Rev. Dennis Colamarino, pastor of Christ the Light of the World Parish, has been living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis for 15 months. He challenged Diocese of Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik to join him on Saturday after the parish’s 11 a.m. Mass to take the plunge.
The fundraising phenomenon began when a professional golfer in Florida was challenged by his swing coach to dump a bucket of ice water over his head. He did so for his wife’s cousin living with ALS. He then challenged three people and the rest is history. The Ice Bucket Challenge has exploded on social media, resulting in nearly $42 million in donations to the ALS Association since July 29. Children, athletes, celebrities and others have jumped on the Ice Bucket Challenge bandwagon, challenging others to dump ice water over their heads or donate $100 to the ALS Association.
“My parishioners and I are doing the Greater Pittsburgh Walk to Defeat ALS in September and I thought this would be a nice way to raise awareness,” Colamarino said. “I called the bishop and challenged him to join me and he said yes, that he’d like to do it with me.”
After Mass, the Duquesne Police Department will close traffic to South First Street — the church is located at 32 S. First St. — where Colamarino and Zubik will take their seats to await the frigid deluge.
“This is fun,” Colamarino said, “and it brings people together. I thought this was the right thing at the right time. It’s a little inane and fun. It’s something out of the ordinary for us uptight adults. It’s fun and everyone has fun with it. And it’s raising awareness and money for ALS.”
The Ice Bucket Challenge began on July 29. Through Thursday, the ALS Association has received $41.8 million in donations, compared to $2.1 million during the same time last year. There have been 739,275 new donors to the ALS Association.
ALS first was diagnosed in 1869, but it wasn’t until 1939 that Lou Gehrig brought attention to the disease — a progressive neurodegenerative disease that eventually can lead to total paralysis and death. The disease has claimed the lives of many, including Hall of Fame pitcher Jim “Catfish” Hunter, Sen. Jacob Javits, actors Michael Zaslow and David Niven and Sesame Street creator Jon Stone.
Colamarino has been in ministry for 41 years, 31 of them serving the parishioners at Christ the Light of the World and St. Joseph parishes in the city where he grew up. Since his diagnosis, they have stood by his side.
“I wouldn’t be able to be here if it weren’t for them. They are more than parishioners — they are my family,” he said, noting the sanctuary has been remodeled and an elevator installed in the rectory. He gets around with a walker or scooter and recently was fitted for a wheelchair. He no longer is able to drive because he’s lost use of his right leg.
He was not diagnosed immediately. Seeking medical care for a foot problem, Colamarino was not finding any relief. His primary care physician suggested going to a neurologist.
“I went and she said it was ALS. She said I would die in two years, so I should go home and make a will,” he said. “That was quite shocking.”
He made an appointment with an ALS specialist in Pittsburgh and goes every four months to determine if the debilitation is spreading. The disease has started to affect one of his hands.
Muscle weakness is a common early sign of ALS. Early symptoms can include tripping, dropping things, abnormal fatigue of the arms and/or legs, slurred speech, muscle cramps and twitches, and/or uncontrollable periods of laughing or crying. The hands and feet may be affected first and eventually speech, swallowing, chewing and breathing are impaired.
Despite mobility challenges, the priest continues to fulfill his duties. “I started to get tired, so I asked the bishop for a helper,” he said, noting the assistant is a Duquesne native and New Castle priest.
Referring to something his neurologist told him, Colamarino said, “This disease will not define who I am. Every morning I get up and say my morning prayer and thank God for another day.”
Reflecting on how ALS has changed his life, he classifies things as BD or AD — Before Disease or After Disease. “Before I would jog three times a week and cook meals. I love to cook for myself and friends. But that life is over. Now I can’t drive or lift a frying pan. When it comes to meals, everybody brings them to me. There’s not a day goes by that somebody calls to see what I need. Every day someone is bringing a meal and that gives us quality time to spend together.”
Although his life has changed dramatically, Colamarino remains upbeat. “We don’t get to choose our life so you just have to make the best of it. I’m surrounded by so much love. I often cry, not for myself but because I can’t believe I’m so loved.”
He doesn’t look too far down the road, but he is looking forward to Saturday and the ALS walk. “We’ve formed a team, Team Father Dennis, for the walk and we are leading in the amount of money raised. We set a goal of $10,000 and so far we’re up to $25,000. I think Saturday’s event may kick it up even more.
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – August 23, 2014
— Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese Bishop David Zubik accepted the Ice Bucket Challenge to help a dear friend.
A total of 800 people showed up for the 11 a.m. Mass Saturday at the Christ the Light of the World Parish in Duquesne.
It wasn’t just about the Mass though, their main reason for being there is the parish priest.
“I can’t believe how much I am loved. But I think it’s… I told them I thought I loved them more than they loved me; but obviously, it’s pretty equal,” said Fr. Dennis Colamarino.
They came to support Fr. Dennis in his struggle with ALS – better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Bishop Zubik came, too. Afterwards, he took the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.
How’d the Bishop feel afterwards?
“That’s cold!” he said.
Not to be outdone, Fr. Dennis took the challenge, too.
“I’m the pastor and they’re parishioners, but it’s more than that. We are family and we love each other like family,” said Fr. Dennis.
Bishop Zubik compares the ice dump to a baptism.
“Water is a sign of Jesus. We take it beyond that sacrament to say what we do here and how we’re supposed to help people who are struggling, that becomes a sign of Jesus within us,” he said.
For Fr. Dennis, it was a blessing for Duquesne.
“It brought the community together, and I hope you all print this, something good happens in Duquesne,” he said.
Parishioners have started the Team Father Dennis Fund and have raised more than $10,000. Some will take part in the Walk to Defeat ALS on Sept. 6.
My special thanks to Tara Hoover, who administers Christ the Light of the World’s Facebook page for allowing the use of the photos from the Mass for Healing and the Ice Bucket Challange in this post! Visit their page by click here.