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SEPTEMBER 2018 PRIEST OF THE MONTH - REV. DENNIS J. J. MANCUSO 

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Born the fourth child in his family of ten, Fr. Dennis grew up in Fredonia, NY where he and his family were parishioners of St. Joseph Church.  He recalled, “The call to priesthood was something that was always there in the background from the time that I was a little boy and it just kept coming up over and over again. There was a moment when I was in my late twenties when I couldn’t ignore it anymore.”  

He spent three years in the Navy and worked as a janitor and as a freelance artist doing sign work. Tragedy struck the family when his brother died in an accident while serving in the Navy.  Father Dennis said, “It was his death that really set off my thinking about what I was going to do with my life. When someone close to you passes away like that you kind of get a sense of your own mortality. It got me thinking about priesthood again.” After spending a few years at Wadhams Hall Minor Seminary, he entered Christ the King Seminary and was ordained to the priesthood in 1996.

Father Mancuso’s first assignment was to All Saints Parish in Buffalo as a deacon and then for the first year of his priesthood. After that he spent five years as a parochial vicar at Fourteen Holy Helpers parish under the leadership of Msgr. David Slubecky. From there he was sent by Bishop Mansell to Allegany County in the Southern Tier. He began as pastor of St. Mary in Belmont, St. Joseph in Scio and Sacred Heart in Angelica. This was the beginning of his role as pastor of many parishes at once. He remarked, “I’ve only pastored multiple parishes, never just one.” Through closings and mergers, he learned the art of being a shepherd of many flocks. Today he pastors two St. Patrick parishes, one in Belfast (with St. Mark in Rushford as an oratory) and one in Fillmore both of which have cemeteries named “Holy Cross,” and Our Lady of the Angels in Cuba, NY. His conical territory is forty percent of Allegany County which encompasses 400 square miles.

Daily Mass for all his parishes rotates throughout the week to different locations. Some Masses are in the morning and some in the evening. On the weekends Fr. Mancuso gets help from retired priests in the area. The winter makes getting help more difficult as most priests have to drive through a snow belt to get to him. He provides Mass at two different nursing facilities as well.

While studying at the seminary, Fr. Mancuso recalled that they emphasized “building community” in parishes. He believes that, “In rural parishes you don’t have to build community, it is already there. The same families have been there a long time. Others have moved in but by and large you have extended families, not new ones. There is more of a need for evangelization. The people are out there, you just have to appeal to them through the people you’ve already got. With large extended family ties, evangelization here is not about getting new people, but about getting the people who are out there who are not attending. The necessity is to know how to gently draw them and invite them and at the same time not get pushy. Realizing that God’s grace is in the middle of this, the most important thing is not to get in God’s way. God is the one who is already trying to draw them back to Himself. He uses situations in their lives in order to do that. We can’t get in His way.” Father Mancuso also believes that part of evangelization is getting current parishioners to understand that they have a role in bringing people back to the faith as well. He points this out by saying, “Shepherds don’t make sheep. Sheep make sheep. Evangelization is our mission not by ordination but by baptism.”

In 2007 Fr. Mancuso’s parish, St. Patrick in Fillmore, began campus ministry at Houghton College. He was involved heavily in the beginning but now relies on others to provide this service as his parish responsibilities have increased. Many students from the college attend Mass at St. Patrick Church and get involved in ministry there.

Father Dennis loves saying Mass and administering the Sacraments. He adds, “There’s nothing that I don’t love; even the difficult things that come every once in a while, those things have been moments of grace for me.” He finds that due to the many parishes he oversees, the closeness he once felt with parishioners has been stretched. He added, “I can’t be as present as I would want to be in every circumstance. I try, but there’s a limit to what you can do.” He feels that his parishioners are very understanding because they have been in the situation of sharing a pastor for a long time. He is happy they know, “I am just a phone call away.”

Even though it is a two hour drive to the city of Buffalo, Fr. Mancuso is a member of the Presbyteral Council and the College of Consultors of the Diocese.

Vacation time usually consists of a day off here and there instead of one long break. Father Dennis has a pet dog named, Lady, who was a rescue dog. He doesn’t like the idea of putting her in a kennel as he feels she has already been through a rough life. He finds it very relaxing just spending time at home.

Producing the ads for the church bulletin provides him with an outlet for his gift of artistic talent in pen and ink and watercolor. Father Dennis also finds that there is a creative outlet even in the way that one celebrates the Liturgy but, of course, always according to the book.

Father Mancuso believes that prayer is the most important aspect for anyone considering the priesthood. “It’s important that your prayer life is already set as you are entering into the seminary because prayer is how we hear the voice of God. Prayer is also essential to sustaining one’s priesthood. Priests get into trouble when their prayer life slumps. If you’re not praying or too busy to pray you need to find time. I would also suggest a daily Holy Hour early in the morning before things get too busy.” Community prayer is also important according to Fr. Dennis. He regularly prays the Liturgy of the Hours with parishioners after daily Mass. 

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