About Saint Dennis Parish
Saint Dennis is an active parish on Madison’s East Side with more than 2,300 families, a 260-student school, and a Dominican convent. Saint Dennis Parish is a Catholic community that invites and encourages all to live a faith-filled journey with Jesus Christ. Join us at one of our weekend Masses or look to this website for areas of interest to you and your family.
The 2,300 families of Saint Dennis are served by truly dedicated professional pastoral and support staffs, and many commissions and committees. An incredible number of caring lay people serve in volunteer capacities in the parish’s many ministries and other areas of parish life.
The Saint Dennis Festival, which occurs yearly on the last full weekend of July, is probably the best attended social event of the year on the East Side of Madison. It requires hundreds of volunteers working throughout the year and during the Festival weekend to make it successful. It bonds the family of Saint Dennis and assists with the financial needs of the parish.
As a blessed parish we live our mission statement: “Saint Dennis is a Catholic community that invites and encourages all to live a faith-filled journey with Jesus Christ.”
The Stewardship Commission promotes the awareness and practice of stewardship by helping parishioners focus their time, talent and treasure toward Christ out of gratitude for the gifts they have received. The Commission seeks to foster community and participation in the parish through promoting ministries, communicating parish news and welcoming new parishioners.
The Liturgical Commission coordinates the liturgical ministries.
The Community Action Commission provides a variety of services to members of the community through its social action ministries. The purpose of the Commission is to serve the parish by establishing hospitality, fellowship and goodwill in serving the needs of both our parishioners and community, and to provide opportunities for parish members to serve by meeting the needs of the infirm, aged, disadvantaged or underprivileged of the parish and the community at large.
Following the Second World War, a swelling population and rapid housing development on Madison’s East Side necessitated the formation of a new Catholic parish. Miss Esther Dempsey donated eleven and one half acres of beautiful and expansive land, her family homestead, for this new parish.
Bishop William P. O’Connor established the founding of Saint Dennis Parish on June 1, 1956. The first pastor, Father Joseph Niglis, was joined by approximately five hundred families in a temporary, steel fabricated building that was dedicated on December 2nd of that year. That structure still exists at the heart of the present church complex as the chapel, sacristy, and social area just north of today’s spacious church lobby.
Saint Dennis School opened September 7, 1960 under the leadership of the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa. The 2010-2011 school year commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the school with significant celebrations. It remains an important part of parish life today providing a Catholic education for students in 4K through eighth grade.
On November 7, 1960, an aerial photograph was taken of Saint Dennis. The view, looking to the north-east, shows the connection between the school gym and the church is yet to be built, Stoughton Road is still a 2-lane highway, and the original Farm & Fleet is across from Saint Dennis, on Stoughton Road. Additionally, the Dempsey homestead is clearly visible in the foreground (thanks to Bob Spoerl for sharing this).
In addition to the school, the parish provides a strong Faith Formation program for students in the public elementary, middle, and high schools in this area. Many opportunities for adult education are also offered.
Father Delbert Klink became the second pastor of Saint Dennis in 1981. On the feast of Saint Dennis one year later, October 9, 1982, Bishop Cletus O’Donnell broke ground for a permanent church building which had fulfilled the dreams of many parish members. The church was used for the first time on June 13, 1983 as Bishop George Wirz conferred the sacrament of Confirmation on an enthusiastic group of young adults. Then, once again, on the feast of Saint Dennis, October 9, 1983 Bishop Wirz returned to dedicate the new church.
When Father Kent Schmitt returned to Saint Dennis in 1994 as the third pastor, the parish was already outgrowing its existing space. A Strategic Planning Task Force of over thirty parishioners worked diligently the next two years to study the future needs of the parish. The result is the newest building, the Saint Dennis Parish Center, dedicated by Bishop William Bullock on the feast of Saint Dennis, October 9, 1999.
In 2007 the Diocese of Madison formed a partnership of the parishes of Saint Dennis, Immaculate Heart of Mary, Saint Bernard and Saint Peter to better conserve and share the resources of each parish due to the shortage of priests.
On October 8, 2008 a dedication ceremony was held for the “Celebration of Life Garden” located outside the back door of the church. It holds many memories of the families of Saint Dennis.
Our Patron Saint
Who was Saint Denis?
- Bishop of Paris
- Born in Italy (little is known of the time or place, or of his early life)
- Feast day is 9 October
- Usually represented with his head in his hands because, according to the legend, after his execution the corpse rose again and carried the head for some distance
While still very young, he was distinguished for his virtuous life, knowledge of sacred things, and firm faith. Pope Fabian (236-250) sent him with some other missionary bishops to Gaul on a difficult mission. The Church of Gaul had suffered terribly under the persecution of the Emperor Decius and the new messengers of Faith were charged to restore it to its former prosperous condition. Denis, with his companions, the priest Rusticus and the deacon Eleutherius, arrived in the neighborhood of the present city of Paris and settled on the island in the Seine. The earliest document giving an account of his labors and of his martyrdom dating from the end of the sixth or the beginning of the seventh century and wrongly attributed to the poet Venantius Fortunatus, is interwoven with much legend, from which, however, the following facts can be gleaned:
On the island in the Seine, Denis built a church and provided for a regular solemnization of the Divine service. His brave and diligent preaching of the Gospel led to countless conversions, which aroused the envy, anger, and hatred of the heathen priests. They incited the populace against the strangers and demanded the governor Fescenninus Sisinnius to put a stop by force to the new teaching. Denis with his two companions were seized and as they persevered in their faith were beheaded (about 275) after many tortures. Later accounts give a detailed description of the confessors’ sufferings. They were scourged, imprisoned, racked, thrown to wild beasts, burnt at the stake, and finally beheaded. The bodies of the three holy martyrs received an honorable burial through the efforts of a pious matron named Catulla and a small shrine was erected over their graves; later replaced by a basilica.