Father Dennis Dorner | Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Atlanta, Georgia
Submitted by: Jaye Watson
When COVID hit, Father Dennis became an essential lifeline for all of us. Twice a day at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Father Dennis does prayers and readings live on Facebook. I can't tell you how many times I've gone there in the middle of a work day, feeling so emptied out and worried and isolated and there he is, creating community, reassuring and reminding us that we do have each other, that God is with us in every difficult moment. Father Dennis's FB lives are highly attended and we comment in the thread, saying hello to each other and him, and weighing in on what he says. It is very much a conversation with a dear and trusted friend who makes you feel like you can soldier through another day. It is a deep give and take in a time when we cannot be together in person.
Our church has an incredible head pastor who is adored and cherished by our community and at 80 years old we know we won't have him forever. When Father Dennis arrived, it was beautiful to see the way he and Monsignor Henry supported, encouraged and uplifted each other. It was also glorious to immediately discover that he could deliver soul shaking, heart stirring homilies that served as sustenance for the week ahead. Father Dennis has a deep passion for his faith and you can see that passion pouring out of him when he is preaching --- encouraging and challenging us to love more, and to know how loved we are. He voices uncomfortable truths we try to keep hidden -- he names the things we think about others but won't say out loud -- and he uses these things to bring us back to the Gospel, to tie it back to the only thing that can save us from suffering. He's also a lot of fun! He's animated and funny and self deprecating and attending one of his Masses is a joyful, reverent experience.
Father Dennis deserves the 'In Service of One Another' Catholic Humanitarian Award because he has given so deeply of himself during this profoundly difficult time. We are reeling, not just from the COVID pandemic, but from poisonous politics and racial strife and through it all Father Dennis gently reminds us that we must serve each other in love, that we must be a voice for the voiceless. He has a knack for giving voice to our deepest fears and worries and insecurities -- the things we fear to say out loud so he says them for us, and then he shows the path out of our suffering. All ways lead to Jesus. All ways lead to love. We have been taught this all our lives, but in 2020, we need to hear it and believe and live it more than ever and Father Dennis is doing that for us.
He will message or text members of the church just to check in, ready to listen to peoples' pain. He is constantly reaching out to us, to remind us he is here for us, no matter what.