The Passing of a True Shepherd
I have been fortunate, in my life, to have served under, with, for, and alongside some truly great leaders, not just of organizations, but of men, women, and children. I have watched some of these people serve others willingly, unconditionally, unbegrudgingly, without judgement, and always with a smile on their face. Some of these people have made a huge difference in my life, in the life of my bride, and the lives of my children too. You can say some of these people can be compared as shepherds leading flocks toward their destination, watching over them every step of the way, sacrificing themselves for the good of the flock. Just a short while ago, we lost one of those true shepherds with the passing of Father Dennis Mende, pastor of Holy Apostles and St. James Parishes here in Jamestown.
Father Mende came to us over twenty years ago with a smile on his face that never left that face in all the time I knew him. He welcomed us into the fold, if you will, as soon as he arrived at SS Peter and Paul Church before we could even welcome him to our city and our parish. That was the way Father Mende operated. He never wanted to be the receiver, but always the giver in every situation I was fortunate to share with him.
Father Dennis was more than a priest, more than a pastor. As we got to know him, he became a friend, an amazing example of what the Good Lord meant when He uttered the words, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” Father Mende was the emulation of God’s words found in John 10:14. He was the Good Shepherd for us. He guided by his words, his personality, his unselfishness, and his example of loving one another without bias or prejudice, without question or pause.
During Father Mende’s tenure at SS Peter and Paul Church, he became the Parochial Vicar of SSPP/Holy Family School, where I was blessed to have been able to be around him in numerous situations. First, Jon was a student at the school when Father accepted his responsibilities at the school. As a parent of a Parochial School student, you became, if you weren’t before, a fundraising fanatic. Sally and I were that, and we loved doing it. In our service, Father Mende was always stopping by, expressing his appreciation for what we were doing for the school and our/his children. Ironically, but in Father’s true nature, it was really us who should have been thanking him for what he was doing for our children.
Jon was an Altar Server from fourth grade through High School. He had many opportunities to be around Father Mende. Wednesday was Mass Day at Holy Family and Jon got to school early and under Father’s tutelage, Jon set up the altar setting for weekly Mass on many, many occasions. Father saw something in Jon and when he was entering High School, Father nominated him for recognition by the Diocese of Buffalo as an Outstanding Altar Server. Jon was selected and was one of those chosen to be honored at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Buffalo. Jon was the beneficiary of Father Mende’s shepherding and when Jon became a Police Officer, Father blessed the St. Michael the Archangel Medal that Sally and I placed around Jon’s neck after Sally pinned on his shield. That blessing remains with Jon as he does his job.
While Jon was at Holy Family, and after he graduated, I served, at Father’s request, on the School Advisory Board, the equivalent of the School Board, which let me get to know Father Mende even better. In all the fundraising, meetings, school programs, etc., I always felt the protection and warmth, the kindness and love that emanated from Father Dennis, as my Good Shepherd on Earth. I have never been able to match his example, as many can attest, but it doesn’t mean I didn’t become a better person for being around him.
Over the past few years, I had been a substitute Altar Server for Father Mende, and Sally and I have served on the Parish Pastoral Council, where we got to see Father even more, and experience his shepherdship even more. A short while back, he developed some health issues which sent him to Cleveland Clinic regularly, though you’d never even know there was anything wrong with him.
I remember his hospital visit to me in ’14 as I awaited a test that resulted in my being star flighted to Erie for a heart procedure. We sat, talked, and prayed together, and he, with eyes and smile, told this sheep, everything would be okay.
I always felt Father invisibly followed me around each week and took notes, as it seemed like many times his sermons were written for me personally. Others have told me the same thing about themselves too. Our Good Shepherd on Earth definitely did know his sheep.
He served us all well, not just his parishioners, but his fellow Jamestowners as well. He will be truly missed. Rest in Peace in your Heavenly Home, Father Mende. Godspeed and God Bless!