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Feature News | Friday, April 23, 2021

Father Arthur Dennison, 74

Archdiocesan priest for nearly 50 years, left 'indelible' mark on many students at Columbus High

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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 Arthur Dennison: Born Jan. 24, 1947; ordained July 2, 1973; died April 23, 2021.

Photographer: FILE

Father Arthur Dennison: Born Jan. 24, 1947; ordained July 2, 1973; died April 23, 2021.

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.”

Raul Rivero, left, Christopher Columbus class of 1984, and his son, Raul Jr., a current junior at the Miami high school, throw up the Columbus "C" with Father Arthur Dennison during a visit with the priest in mid-April, just a few days before his April 23, 2021 death at the age of 74.

Photographer: COURTESY

Raul Rivero, left, Christopher Columbus class of 1984, and his son, Raul Jr., a current junior at the Miami high school, throw up the Columbus "C" with Father Arthur Dennison during a visit with the priest in mid-April, just a few days before his April 23, 2021 death at the age of 74.

“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.

Comments from readers

John Balzola - 05/02/2021 02:24 PM
May he Rest In Peace. Father Dennison was our priest at St. Augustine during my formative, college years, and beyond. His outstanding sermons brought me and my family closer to God, and fortified my faith during very difficult times. He was a great example of what a religious leader should be. He was sorely missed since leaving St. Augustine, and my family is saddened by his passing.
Fr. Dr. Radoslav Lojan, Slovakia - 04/26/2021 01:56 PM
Fr. Dennison was my great friend, teacher and mentor. He loved being a priest in the very best sense of it. He was faithful til the end and I will miss him so much. May God rest his good and dear soul.
Catherine Shields - 04/26/2021 07:56 AM
RIP - God rest your beautiful soul Arthur... I’ll miss seeing you at the Basilica of St Mary’s Star of the Sea...
Maria Cruz - 04/26/2021 05:14 AM
What can I say that hasn’t been said already?Father D was an amazing priest who had a big heart. We were very blessed to have him as our Pastor at Saint Augustine’s where he taught us to look after the poor and needy anywhere they were! From helping Saint John Bosco build a “real” church building with a percentage of our collection, to supporting the orphanage in Haiti with the proceeds from our famous Golden Doughnuts, to always exceeding our share of the ABCD, to the scholarships to Catholic Schools, to our Stars and Angels, to supporting Boys Town, and many, many other projects, Father Dennison was there! The incredible thing is that he rarely asked for money! He had the gift to talk about the need and our parishioners always ended asking him how much was needed. I still remember the first time he talked to us about the children in Boys Town and how they were going to have a very boring and sad Summer because there was no budget for any activities. Before the last Mass that Sunday he had so much money pledged or donated that those children had a great Summer! How can I forget how he came up with ideas to bring the teenagers to church? There was always something exciting for them, of course after they attended Mass! What an impact he had on those young adults. In fact St A’s made one of our local newspapers as the place for teenagers to be seen! As to me and my family he was always there. I so loved to hear from him! There is a hole in our hearts now that will be filled when we meet again. May you Rest In Peace. Father D. Please don’t start getting projects ready for us to do as soon as we join you!
Gigi Fontanilla - 04/25/2021 04:49 PM
RIP Fr. Dennison, my ol boss, former pastor, great priest and amazing homilist. Thanks for giving me my first job with the Church and a being a great influence on me and my involvement in the Church. It went from being a hobby to a vocation in life. Thank you!
Laurie Dastugue - 04/25/2021 10:35 AM
Father Dennison was there for my husband when he wanted to return to the Church. We started attending Mass regularly, and loved it when Fr. Dennison presided. I converted to Catholicism in early March. Although we only knew him briefly, he was such a blessing to us. For the rest of our days, we will be grateful for having met him. May heaven be more glorious than even he could have imagined. With love and reverence, Laurie and Dane Dastugue Key West, Florida
Kathy Walls - 04/25/2021 09:46 AM
Such heartbreaking news to hear of the passing of theis dear priest! During my time in Key West, I was a volunteer at the prison ministry along with fFather Dennison. The inmates absolutely loved him as we all did. His talks i& his sense of humor was timeless ! His faith & love of the Lord resonated ...something I’ll always remember. You can rest now in the arms of Jesus, Father & fly w/ all the angels🙏💝✝️
Maria A. Garrido - 04/24/2021 07:41 PM
To my dear Fr. Arthur Dennison. May your soul be resting in peace with the Lord. You have been an exemplary person to all of us your students, and to me as a teacher at St. Theresa, when you were the pastor. You always inspired me as a student at Immaculata-LaSalle, and then as my pastor at St Theresa. You guided me with your meek and humble ways of keeping pteaching in the Catholic School system. Your Theology classes at LA Salle were superb, and always had a meaning. Being my Pastor, when I was the Math teacher at St. Theresa, always inspired me. You made me laughed when you addressed the students by stating that Geometry had a lot of meaning. I must tell you,that right now you are with my brother Rodolfo Gonzalez in heaven. He passed last year on 4/19/20 and you passed on 4/23/21. Rudy cared and loved you a lot. We had conversations in our family, as to how special you were, and still are. You did many humble and kind deeds, that only our Lord knows. You will be missed, but you won heaven on earth, Fr. Dennison. Thank you for all you taught us, and for your living and true faith, which inspired soo many. You were and will continue to be a blessing to all of us. May you rest in peace in Paradise. God needed you in His beautiful garden, and He only chooses the best. Rest in peace, Fr. Dennison, and always know we love you. You will be in our prayers!!!! Maria A. Gonzalez- Garrido
Deacon RichardE. Simpson, PhD - 04/24/2021 03:35 PM
Fr. Dennison was my classmate at St. John Vianney from 1961 to 1963, when I left the seminary and went next door to Christopher Columbus HS (class of 1965). He was a great guy and a tender soul. Over the years I have read of him and heard from members of my extended family the positive things he said or did for them, particularly at St. Augustine and St. Andrew. Most significantly, he was responsible for bringing my late uncle back to the faith. My uncle just raved about Fr. Dennison! My last long distance contact with him was when he was the pastor of my home parish, Little Flower. John Allen, Jr., now head of Crux in Rome, wrote an article five years ago about Fr. Dennison’s ability to give a weekday reflection in one sentence and be totally on target. I often begin mine with, “In one sentence today’s readings say...” and then I elaborate, unlike Fr. Dennison. It is obvious he will be sorely missed.As one of my sisters said this morning, “Fr. Dennison is most certainly a saint.” Amen! Dcn. Richard E. Simpson, Diocese of San Bernardino, CA
Nancy Heise - 04/24/2021 02:29 PM
Thank you Fr Dennison for coming to be our pastor at St Andrew for six years. You transformed our parish into a beautiful, loving, stewardship parish and taught us so many soul healthy lessons. You were an excellent pastor, a truthful, loving priest and I am forever grateful. I ask God to bless everyone whom you served so well with a grateful heart. I thank God for the great blessing of knowing you. I pray for more good priestly vocations like you. Enjoy your Heaven and pray for us to finish well as you have done. Love Nancy Heise
Sylvia Viyella - 04/24/2021 01:33 PM
I felt profound sadness at the news of Father Dennison’s passing. I feel blessed for the time I spent under his guidance and friendship. Also, for the memorable occasions I had the good fortune to spend with him . I witnessed the love his beloved Columbus boys always had for him, well beyond into the years. It was admirable. He was good to me. I thank God for his presence in that period in my life. Rest In Peace, Father Dennison
Carol Diaz-Zubieta - 04/24/2021 09:03 AM
Fr. Dennison was instrumental in the formation of my faith. He taught us by example. I still have vivid memories of his Church history class. In my adult life, he helped me through some very sad times but was also with me on joyful occasions. He was my teacher, my mentor, my friend. I will miss his stories, his guidance and his wisdom. God Bless you, Fr. Dennison. Thank you for your care and understanding. You have a permanent place in my heart. May you Rest In Peace.
George Ruggiano - 04/24/2021 12:39 AM
God bless you fr Dennison. You were my hero. We need more of you in this world. You taught my thre sons at Columbus high Paul, George and Douglas. 1983, 1984, and 1986.You were their favorite teacher. My nephew jack Chinn which you paid him to help you at st Augustin church. You married my son Douglas to his wife Mariela at coconut grove church. You made an indelible mark on each of them. They are fine men in our community and I will be forever great full. I was at Columbus high the day it opened a 1961 graduate. As a father it was great knowing you were there watching over them. You will be greatly missed. I pray that God rewards you greatly. George Ruggiano,
Miriam Goya Diaz - 04/23/2021 08:26 PM
He was our Spiritual Advisor at Immaculata La Salle and was always ready to listen, always had a smile and always cheered us on. In our later years, he was a friend. May you rest in God's eternal care Fr. Dennison. You were one in a million. Miriam Goya Diaz - Immaculata La Salle - Class of 1978

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