Friday, April 23, 2021
Ana Rodriguez Soto - Florida Catholic newspaper
MIAMI | Friend, scholar, mentor, gifted human being, a blessing: That’s how colleagues and former students remembered Father Arthur Dennison, a retired archdiocesan priest who died April 23, 2021 after a battle with cancer.
Father Dennison was 74 and had been a priest for 47 years. He died under the care of hospice while living in Key West, where he had helped at the Basilica of St. Mary Star of the Sea, since 2013. Father Dennison retired from active ministry in 2011.
“He had a great week of grace,” said Father John Baker, pastor of the Basilica parish, in an email sent April 17. “Former students, parishioners, priests, etc. came to visit and called.”
Well-traveled and a graduate of the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome — where he was ordained at St. Peter’s Basilica on July 2, 1973 — Father Dennison had served the Archdiocese of Miami as secretary to Archbishop Coleman Carroll (1974-76), director of the Office for Priestly Life and Ministry (1995-2001), and pastor at St. Augustine in Coral Gables (1986-96), St. Andrew in Coral Springs (1996-2002) and Little Flower in Coral Gables (2002-11). Prior to that, he served as parochial vicar at St. Patrick on Miami Beach (1974-76) and St. Agnes in Key Biscayne (1976-78).
He also taught at Immaculata-La Salle High School (1976-81) and Christopher Columbus High, where he left an indelible mark on his students. He was assigned there as chaplain from 1981 to 1986 but continued teaching at least one class until 2011, except for the years he was at St. Andrew.
“As a student at Columbus High School, I was fortunate to be a part of Father Dennison's junior year religion class. One always assumed an easy A, but this was not the case. Instead, Father Dennison taught me the most important things about myself, my faith and prepared me for the moral and ethical questions that life presents,” said Eduardo Llano, now an architect in Coral Gables.
Juan Vila, a 1997 graduate who now works as academic dean at Columbus, called Father Dennison “a friend, scholar, mentor, a man with strong principles, a caring heart, and good to his word.”
Father Miguel Gonzalez of the class of 1986, now rector of St. James Cathedral in the Diocese of Orlando, said Father Dennison “had the eloquence and the incredible gift of being brutally honest with us; challenging us to grow. His preaching skills are a gift that engaged and connected us because he was short, sweet, and always to the point.”
“Father Dennison did so much good for our students at Columbus,” said Marist Brother Kevin Handibode, a longtime teacher and former president of Columbus who now works in the school’s development office. “He taught them how to live their Catholic faith and how to help others. He was always there for all of us.”
Marist Brother Michael Brady recalled starting the campus ministry at Columbus with Father Dennison in 1981. “What a wonderful person and priest, as well as an excellent teacher. Many of our alumni and faculty have been affected by him. A gifted human being, his impact has left an indelible mark on the community of Columbus.”
Born Jan. 24, 1947 at the now razed St. Francis Hospital on Miami Beach, Father Dennison was a twin — his sister, who pre-deceased him, was named Mary Claire. He was baptized at St. Mary Cathedral and completed seventh and eighth grades at St. Rose of Lima School in Miami Shores. Immediately after, he entered St. John Vianney — then a high school seminary — and completed his philosophy degree at St. Vincent de Paul Seminary in Boynton Beach.
In 1970, he was sent to Rome to finish his theology studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University, from which he also received a licentiate in dogmatic theology. Before going to Europe, he spent the summer of 1969 studying Spanish at the Catholic University in Ponce, Puerto Rico, and working at a parish in the Dominican Republic.
While in Europe from 1970 to 1974, he traveled a lot during the summers. He worked in a parish in Liverpool, England; spent a summer in France learning French; and even celebrated Mass regularly during the school year at the Regina Caeli Prison in Rome.
“During my years in Europe, I have had the good fortune to travel throughout much of the continent,” he wrote in a bio he sent to the archdiocesan newspaper, then called The Voice, a few months before his ordination. “I spent much of one summer on an archeological tour of Greece and I also traveled throughout the communist countries of western Europe and Russia with the Italian Communist Party.”
Raul Rivero, a member of Columbus’ class of 1984, visited Father Dennison in Key West this month, taking along his son. The two first met in 1982, when Rivero was a 14-year-old sophomore at Columbus. Over the decades, he said, “our relationship matured and changed from that of a teacher/student to that of a surrogate father/son.”
He called Father Dennison “one of my greatest and most influential teachers,” noting the “indelible impression” the priest left not only with him but with countless others. “Father Dennison taught us that the grave is not the end but just the beginning and that our love for each other transcends this place and time and lives for eternity,” Rivero said.
The funeral Mass for Father Dennison will be celebrated Wednesday, May 5, at 4 p.m. at the Basilica of St. Mary Star of the Sea in Key West. Seating is limited due to COVID restrictions. In accordance with Father Dennison’s wishes, the Mass will not be livestreamed.
UPDATE, April 26, 2021: In order to accommodate the many lives Father Dennison touched in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, there will be a memorial (Month's Mind) Mass at St. Augustine Church in Coral Gables on Monday, May 24, 2021 at 7 p.m.
Little Flower in Coral Gables also will celebrate a memorial Mass on Wednesday, April 28, at 7 p.m.
Cristina Cruz, marketing director at Christopher Columbus High School, contributed to this report.