Reverend Dennis Gonzales, Pastor

With the installation of Fr. Dennis as our new Pastor, by Bishop Gerald Barbarito, let us get to know more about our shepherd who will lead us in our spiritual journey in the coming years.

Fr. Dennis said that his journey to St. Vincent Ferrer Parish began on March 25, 2021, the Solemnity of the Annunciation of our Lord. It was a Wednesday, his regular day off, when he had just gotten out from the noon Mass at Emmanuel Church and received a call from Bishop Barbarito informing him of his appointment.

Fr. Dennis has a special devotion to Mama Mary. He states, “I always ask her intercession to guide me and clear my way in whatever endeavor I have in life. I remember when I was a kid in the Philippines, we had a big statue of our Lady of Lourdes on our altar, and my grandparents would always lead us in praying the rosary on Friday nights. I have carried on this devotion to the present time.”

Fr. Dennis has been in our parish for a year, and we are about to celebrate his official installation as our Pastor. He was humbled that the Bishop had picked him to lead our parish. He is also thankful to his predecessor, Msgr. Tom Skindeleski, for all his hard work. He said, “he inherited a parish on sound footing, with capable staff and an excellent school.”

He grew up raising chickens and vegetables on a small farm in the Philippines. He lived in a remote area, and they had no electricity until he was about thirteen years old. Even then, power was often interrupted. He also remembered that they did not have good TV reception. Their access to TV channels was made up of a long bamboo pole, and they would have to rotate the antenna to select the only one station in the area. They went to school riding bicycles and would often go home to eat a hot lunch prepared by their mother. Their activities were centered around church, school, and home. It was a simple way of life.

Father Dennis grew up in a family of faithful Catholics who went to Mass every Sunday. His parents invested in sending their five children to a Catholic school located in the heart of their small town. It was the most treasured part of the community because it brought joy and hope to many children who dreamed for a better life. The school was established by a group of missionary priests and brothers called the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. At a young age, he admired the priests and nuns and the rich culture of reverence they exhibited to God, the Church, and the Sacraments.

Fr. Dennis considered entering the seminary when he completed high school. However, he felt it was not yet the right time. His relatives who lived in Houston, knowing that Father Dennis wanted to explore and venture to new places, suggested that instead, he pursue a degree in Nursing to have an opportunity to emigrate and find a job in the United States. Father Dennis did so and was fortunate and blessed to be sponsored by a hospital in Washington, DC. There, he went through Medical, Surgical, and Rehab Unit rotation and began working in the Hospice field. He spent seven years in D.C. He had also lived briefly in Chicago, where he went back to earn an M.A. in Bioethics at the Neiswanger Institute for Bioethics and Healthcare Leadership at Loyola University, Chicago, in 2017.

Priesthood was never far from his thoughts. While living in D.C., he was part of the Ministry of Lectors at his parish, St. Ann’s in Tenleytown, located in Northeastern D.C. He took advantage of the flexibility of his hospital work schedule and pursued a graduate degree in Theology at the Washington Theological Union through a scholarship grant offered by the Franciscan friars.

After careful discernment, he applied as a seminarian for the Diocese of Palm Beach and was accepted at St. Vincent de Paul Seminary in Boynton Beach. He was ordained in 2013 at the Cathedral of St. Ignatius of Loyola in Palm Beach Gardens by Bishop Gerald Barbarito. Since ordination, he served at St. Helen’s in Vero Beach for four years, then transferred to St. Ann’s in West Palm Beach for another four years. Because of his background in healthcare and bioethics, Fr. Dennis has been actively involved in various healthcare ministries as a volunteer chaplain to hospitals. Currently, he sits as a member of the Bioethics Committee of our local hospital and as chaplain to the Catholic Medical Association in the Diocese of Palm Beach.

He had taken his ministerial motto from the words of Pope Francis: “I see the Church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds, and then we can discuss everything. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds… And you have to start from the ground up.”

Father Dennis says that his priestly identity centers on healing. “After all, I feel I am trained to be a healer in body and spirit.” He finds that his work in healthcare and calling to priestly ministry overlap. He remembers that during the height of the COVID pandemic, he had no hesitation to anoint patients in the ICU and prayed with nurses and doctors as they cared for the sick during that difficult time.

Fr. Dennis thinks that everyone who comes to Church is wounded in some way and is in need of healing. We have to treat each one with the same love and compassion Jesus showed to those who came to him, and we should be aware of what truly matters in life. He points out that at a hospice where he worked, patients talked about faith, family, and relationships, not about material goods. Most said that their greatest regret in life was that they worked too hard up to the point of neglecting to share their time and attention to what matters the most—relationships!

Faith, family, and friendship are important to Father Dennis. When he was first appointed, he was thrilled to learn that the church also had a school. He wants to build and nourish his relationships with the children and their parents, so he will join the teachers assisting with the car line, greeting students and parents, and being a visible presence in their lives. He encourages our families to pray together and actively participate in Sunday Masses.

Because he sees the need to have events for people to gather in prayer, we have added devotions to Mary on the 13th of each month along with the Healing Mass on the third Saturday of each month. Father Dennis also mentioned how important our Adoration Chapel is, pointing out that there are always people sitting with the Lord, even in the middle of the night.

Father Dennis has not forgotten his roots on a farm in the Philippines. He has a garden on campus, where he grows eggplant, okra, tomatoes, arugula, peppers, corn, and herbs like cilantro, basil, mint, rosemary, and lemongrass. He makes his tea from his garden. He also cooks simple dinners at the rectory using vegetables from his garden. He tries his best to stay healthy to better serve the Lord and His Church.

The parish life of a parish priest is often a full schedule, but he always finds time for parishioners needing his immediate attention. First and foremost, he views himself as a shepherd. If a person comes to me in distress, I attend to that person. Amid the tasks of a thriving parish, Father Dennis has not forgotten that people come first!

May God bless him and our parish as he unites and strengthens us through prayer and love. And let us remember to pray for him.