Fr. Jamie Dennis, parochial vicar of Blessed Mother Parish in Owensboro, lifts the chalice during the St. Lucy Mass at the Church of St. Francis Xavier in New York City on Dec. 13, 2021 – Xavier Society for the Blind’s first in-person celebration since the COVID-19 pandemic began. COURTESY OF THE XAVIER SOCIETY FOR THE BLIND
Fr. Jamie Dennis reunites with blind Catholic community to celebrate 2021 St. Lucy Mass
BY ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD, THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC
The blind Catholic community is “very small,” according to Fr. Jamie Dennis of Blessed Mother Parish in Owensboro – so he enjoys being around “other like-minded people,” such as his recent opportunity to once again celebrate the annual St. Lucy Mass for clients and friends of Xavier Society for the Blind.
Xavier Society for the Blind has provided free braille and audio books to blind and visually impaired people worldwide for them to understand and practice their Catholic faith for more than 120 years. St. Lucy is a patron saint of blind people, and her feast day is Dec. 13.
Last year, the in-person celebration was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so Fr. Dennis livestreamed the St. Lucy Mass from his parish.
“It was so good to actually go in-person,” said Fr. Dennis, who reunited with many of his blind Catholic friends when celebrating the Mass on Dec. 13, 2021 at the Church of St. Francis Xavier in New York City.
Fr. Dennis told The Western Kentucky Catholic in a Dec. 17 phone conversation that he had expected 10 people to attend – and was thrilled to have “about 30 people.”
Attendees included a woman from Arizona; a couple men from Philadelphia; one of his friends from Washington, D.C.; and others from the New York and New Jersey areas. Several Xavier clients participated as lectors.
“A friend I met at the first St. Lucy Mass (which Fr. Dennis celebrated with Xavier Society in 2016) brought his new Seeing Eye Dog and I got to bless his dog,” said Fr. Dennis.
He said he appreciated the community-building aspect of the gathering – “there were a lot of exchanges of email addresses and phone numbers” – as well as the catered Italian meal after the Mass.
Fr. Dennis said the individuals who attended the liturgy tend to be people who “like to go out and do stuff,” including a blind friend who hikes with her dog, and her boyfriend who is a sailor and also blind.
“My friend hopes to be the first blind woman to hike the whole Appalachian trail,” said Fr. Dennis, affirming the community’s encouragement of each other to push beyond stereotypes.
Fr. Dennis said that his homily focused on challenging the congregation to continue doing things and being bold.
Back home in Owensboro, he appreciates how he has grown since his ordination in 2016. He is the Diocese of Owensboro’s first and only blind priest, and remains one of the few blind priests in the United States.
“I love Blessed Mother Parish,” said Fr. Dennis. “Fr. Mike Clark (the parish’s pastor) allows me to grow and learn at my pace. But if I need anything he’ll be there for me – and my parishioners are, too.”
He said Fr. Clark tells him “the only way you’re going to learn things is by doing them.”
Fr. Dennis traveled to New York City via train with one of his sighted Owensboro friends, Alex Reid, whose wedding Mass Fr. Dennis celebrated several years ago.
“It means a lot to us, our friends who help us,” said Fr. Dennis of the sighted community.
Plus, the two had the chance to visit New York City during Christmastime, which was “really nice” according to Fr. Dennis: “As we were talking through Times Square, I could hear all these different languages and accents being spoken.”
He was also grateful for the concerns of those attending the St. Lucy Mass who had heard about the tornadoes that devastated a significant portion of western Kentucky during the night of Dec. 10.
“They were praying for that with me,” said Fr. Dennis.
Originally printed in the January 2021 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.