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Monsignor Dennis R. Clark

1939 - 2014 Obituary Condolences Gallery
Monsignor  Dennis R. Clark Obituary
MONSIGNOR DENNIS R. CLARK 1939 2014 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs." (John 21:15). Of the many vocations to which a man is called, perhaps none is more selfless or more humble than that of Priest of Jesus Christ. In life, Reverend Monsignor Dennis Rankin Clark, Ph.D. claimed a myriad of honors, assembled a veritable alphabet of academic degrees, and rose to a position of prominence within the magisterium. And yet, for Dennis, the prominence of titles, offices, and academic excellence were but small successes on the road to what he called "the best years of his life:" his twenty-five years as a shepherd of God's people. Born to Lucille and Alfred Clark in 1939, Dennis was a bookish young child who very quickly displayed the keen and inquisitive mind of a scholar. In enrolling him at Saint Francis de Sales school in San Bernardino, California, his mother planted a seed that ultimately bore fruit in the baptism of her son during his junior year of high school and, following his first year at the University of San Diego, his communion with the Holy Spirit and call to the priesthood. As musician, writer, and university don, Dennis amassed a small cohort of degrees between 1957 and 1973, including a Bachelors of Arts with a Double Major in History and Philosophy from USD, Masters Degrees in Political Science and History from the University of San Francisco, and a Ph.D. in History from the Catholic University of America. Quickly following his ordination on June 4, 1966, Dennis' academic acumen and proficient skill as an administrator quickly elevated him from associate pastor of Saint Rose's Church in Santa Rosa to an instructor at St. Patrick Major Seminary, Administrator at Resurrection Parish, Curriculum Major Instructor at Cardinal Newman High School, and, in 1973, Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Santa Rosa. In 1978, he was made Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of San Diego a position he held until 1985. Throughout this period, he served on commissions at the California State Board of Education and chaired numerous Diocesan and Inter-Diocesan committees. The consummate scholar, now an educator himself, was a wise and ambitious officer of the church. In July of 1985, Bishop Leo T. Maher of the Diocese of San Diego fatefully charged Dennis with a task that, at the time, must have seemed strange and unexpected. Rather than navigating diocesan educational bureaucracy, Dennis' mission was to take the form of planting the seeds and faithfully tending to the tender shoot that would become a new parish in Rancho Santa Fe. The Church of the Nativity, with its fledgling congregation meeting in a small ballroom at the Whispering Palms Golf Club on Via de la Valle, would become Dennis' flock. With no associate pastors or deacons to aid him, Dennis very quickly found himself facing a unique challenge. In later years he would recall the overwhelming sense of responsibility that overtook him. "I would have to face these people every week. They would look to me for guidance. I would be there through all of life's chapters the joyful and the sorrowful. I was frightened. But at the same time I saw a door was opening. All I had to do was step through. And I did. And it led to the best years of my life." It was during these early years that Dennis began putting pen to paper to create a weekly homily what he called his "gift to the people." Sincere, simple, and profoundly moving, each week he stood at his lectern with three-quarters of a page of prepared text, which he read with slow, gentle intonations. Foregoing catechesis and biblical scholarship in favor of tender truths and lessons, his words illuminated each Sunday's reading. So personal and accessible were his words that many a parishioner would wonder to themselves whether the day's reflection was especially addressed to them. But when asked, Dennis would softly reply that the lessons were meant for himself. Over the years, four volumes of his homilies twelve years of sermons were compiled and published: each word treasured by his the flock he so faithfully tended. Upon his assumption of duties as Pastor of the Church of the Nativity, Dennis began the process of building a permanent spiritual home for the small community. His administrative skills and leadership quickly led to the construction of an eight acre postmodern mission-style complex on the banks of the San Dieguito River designed by renowned architect Charles Moore. Dedicated in 1989, the Church of the Nativity quickly garnered attention and awards for its interior design, exterior architecture, and religious art all of which were carefully selected, designed, and brought to completion by Dennis. However, it was Dennis' mass, set in the gentle grandness and transcendental beauty of the new church, that most defined the Nativity parish a meditative intersection of music, liturgy, architecture, and community, all brought to meeting in the humble and gentle meditations of its presider. A parish school quickly followed in 1996, when The Nativity School its curriculum, faculty, design, and programs personally selected and developed by Dennis - held its first classes. In 2005, Dennis became Pastor of the Parish of St. Vincent de Paul in Mission Hills, and quickly applied the same lessons he learned from his time at Nativity to reimagine that half-century-old parish, undertaking an extensive renovation and modernization of the church sanctuary and its school. Upon his retirement in 2010, Dennis had served twenty-five years as a pastor a role from which he never fully withdrew. In the tradition of the early church he celebrated the Catholic liturgy in private homes, and each week a recorded homily spoken in his own voice was distributed to many hundreds of the parishioners he once served as pastor. Each and every one of his works is a gift, carefully and lovingly brought to being by the guiding hand of a consummate renaissance man. A humble man. A man who gave his entire self. Dennis Clark. The scholar-priest. The gentle-philosopher. The shepherd of thousands. He passes from sight but does not pass from the hearts of his people. A house on La Flecha falls empty, but a house of God on El Apajo soars as his monument. The children of the Nativity, to whom he brought baskets of oranges as Kindergartners and Xian Soldier figurines as Sixth Graders, are now grown, but come each September a new generation will pass through the aged wooden gates and begin their pursuit of knowledge and discovery under his watchful gaze. His priestly blessing softly whispers among the loggias and naves of the sanctuary, tenderly comforting those who come home to seek him once more: "Almighty God, our source of life, you know our weakness and our fears. Help us to grasp your hand and to walk more readily in your ways." Dennis Rankin Clark was called home on the Feast of Saint Denis, Patron Saint of Peace October 9, 2014. His life and memory will be honored on October 21, 2014 at 11:00 in the morning, at his Church of the Nativity in Rancho Santa Fe. In lieu of flowers, it is requested that donations are left to the Nativity Parish - School Endowment. "May you receive his gift and live in his peace always. And when that day comes, may you give your spirit to him in the peace you have already known through many days. Amen." -- Monsignor Dennis Clark , Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

Published in Press-Enterprise on Oct. 19, 2014
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