An Interview with Fr. Dennis Strach

Marion Burke Knott Hall is a tight-knit dorm community known for many things, from the Knott Hall Sack Race for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital to the Aidan Project for patients of children’s hospitals. One of the most impressive parts of this dorm is its strong faith community. Residents and non-residents alike gather for Mass every Sunday at 10 PM This year, there is a new face offering the Mass: Fr. Dennis Strach, C.S.C. Fr. Dennis is now not only the priest-in-residence for Knott Hall, but also an Associate Director of Vocations for the United States Province of the Congregation of Holy Cross.

Fr. Dennis was ordained in April 2016 by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. But for him, the bigger day was August 29, 2015––the Feast of the Passion of St. John the Baptist, and the day he professed Perpetual Vows, binding himself to the Congregation of Holy Cross. After his ordination, he was assigned to St. Ignatius Martyr Church and School in Austin, Texas where he served as a transitional deacon, associate pastor, and, eventually, administrator. “Throughout my time there,” he says, “I assisted with the Permanent Diaconate Admissions and Scrutinies Committee for the Diocese of Austin, as well as assisting our Superior General as the Secretary for the Council of the Congregation since 2016.” He also worked on writing a book that will be published in 2020.

Now, when he was asked to be one of the Associate Director of Vocations for the Congregation of Holy Cross, he was quite surprised. The call and request was definitely “not on my radar,” he says, “but I am touched and very grateful that I was appointed for this role by our provincial.” In regards to being back at this wonderful campus, Fr. Dennis is very excited, and, in his words, “it really feels like a homecoming. I was at school here from 2010-2015, so, on top of housing the largest C.S.C. community, as well as knowing many of the faculty and staff, I feel at home.”

The “Juggerknotts” of Knott Hall are very appreciative of Fr. Dennis’s ministry, and it is clear that Fr. Dennis’s presence has affected the lives of the students in Knott. When asked how this is so, he simply stated, “because we live and work together, the gap between priest and student definitely gets smaller,” and that they’ll “also be able to see me as a person.” Indeed, because of his younger age, Fr. Dennis believes he “can relate to the guys in Knott in a new way, because it wasn’t that long ago that I was going through the same things.” This revitalized priest-and-student relationship has already led to many a student seeking council, coffee, and even Confession.

Additionally, by being an Associate Vocations Director, Fr. Dennis firmly believes that “men will be able to see me as a person: I don’t chant all day, I don’t wear clerics all day, etc. Maybe, as I live my ordinary life, the men of Knott can see themselves living out this vocation, especially as they come to learn that we are a lot more similar than many realize.” By living out this professed religious and priestly vocation, Fr. Dennis wants to help men further discern their own vocations during his time as a priest-in-residence in Knott Hall. By offering the Mass, he hopes to break open the theology of those who take part in lay ministry, and guide them into realizing the beauty of offering and praying the Mass reverently and intentionally. Fr. Dennis also hopes to develop relational ministry. He says, by already doing so, “a lot of exciting things are happening, such as a men’s faith group, Wednesday night candlelit-Mass with a social following, a canoeing trip ‘mini-retreat’ that will include Mass, a Grotto Mass, as well as just offering support in any way possible.”

Both of these roles – Associate Vocations Director and a priest-in-residence – require living a life of integrity. By living a life by example, and maintaining a steady prayer life, Fr. Dennis hopes to “answer positively the question of ‘Do I live what I profess?’” This positive answer, lived out by many Holy Cross religious and priests, is why there has been a recent rise in vocations for the U.S. Province of Priests and Brothers as evidenced by the 64 men currently in formation. This rise, Fr. Dennis says, is rooted in the charism of the Congregation of Holy Cross. Men are drawn to the familial bond shared between priests and brothers, as well as the hope that is found in the Cross.

It is this powerful message of hope in the Cross that Fr. Dennis wishes to spread through both of his new positions here on Notre Dame’s campus. Fr. Dennis is doing this by offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at 10 PM on Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday, as well as at 8:30 AM on Thursday. By living his life as an example of a Holy Cross priest, Fr. Dennis hopes that students, especially discerning men, will feel called by the Holy Spirit to be more “willing to bear the cross and anchors and triumphantly say ‘Ave Crux, Spes Unica. Hail the Cross, our only Hope.’”

Jack is a sophomore from Knott Hall studying theology. He brings an unsurpassed amount of energy as one of Knott’s liturgical commissioners.