Father Jamie Dennis said he gave a lot of thought to the homily he would deliver on the Feast of St. Lucy, the patron saint of the blind.
His congregation in the Lady Chapel at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Dec. 13 included many blind and visually impaired persons who receive services from the Xavier Society for the Blind, as well as many of the society’s supporters, friends and employees, including the new executive director, Malachy Fallon.
Father Dennis had come all the way from the Diocese of Owensboro, Ky., where he is a first-year priest serving as parochial vicar at St. Stephen’s Cathedral. He also happens to be blind.
“It is so good to be with you,” said Father Dennis to the crowd that filled the pews and extended past the back of the chapel.
He admitted that he had spent much time over the past several months reflecting on the many things he would like to say at the Mass, without a lot of success. “So, part of this will be Holy Spirit-driven,” he said to a round of applause.
He expertly weaved together his own personal story of how he drew closer to the Lord, thanks to his practice of daily Mass attendance in his years as a student at Brescia University in Owensboro, along with practical advice for the blind and visually impaired people listening to him.
It can be difficult for people who are blind to find the correct “balance” between trying to do everything themselves and relying on the assistance of others for every task, the priest said.
Developing good relationships and support systems are key. “We can do it, especially if we rely on the Lord,” Father Dennis said.
Father Dennis and the blind and visually impaired persons who served as lectors and gift bearers offered a good illustration of his advice. Though they needed assistance—in Father Dennis’ case, from a seminarian who traveled to New York with him, and in the case of the lectors and gift-bearers, from sighted family members and volunteers and service dogs—each were ultimately able to handle their responsibilities adeptly.
Speaking with Fallon the next morning, I suggested that what took place, in word and deed, at the Mass was perhaps the best example of the mission of the Xavier Society for the Blind in Manhattan. He agreed, saying that having Father Dennis present to celebrate the Mass was a perfect way to cap the society’s “defining annual event.”
Fallon, who took over as executive director in September, said that he found the Mass personally inspiring. Despite the obstacles and challenges that many of the worshippers face, the thing that stood out to him was “how committed they are to practice their faith.”
As executive director, Fallon succeeds Father John Sheehan, S.J., who had served in the role since 2007. His ascension marks the first time in the 116-year history of the nonprofit organization that neither the executive director nor the chairman of the board is a Jesuit priest.
Fallon, 55, figures that he’s got plenty of Jesuit bona fides, instilled at Fordham University, from which he holds three degrees, including two in business and the third a master’s in nonprofit leadership, earned last year.
He came to the Xavier Society after a long career with S & P Global during which he did a lot of work with companies in the nonprofit sector. “I was always impressed with the passion and enthusiasm I saw,” he said. “I always said, I’d like to work in the field rather than working with people in the field.”
As he told me about a family he met at the Mass in which the parents were helping their two young sons learn to use Braille and large print books, he sounded like a man who had found a place where he could make a difference for others.