The Saint Mary's College community celebrated the life of Dr. John Alfred Dennis Jr. with a Memorial Mass filled with singing, dancing and reflections from friends, students and colleagues. He was remembered as an exuberant man of faith and a dedicated, demanding and beloved teacher.
"He understood that true riches come from committing one's life to the service of others," said former dean Tom Brown, who knew Dr. Dennis since he was hired into SMC's History Department in 1979. Brown said that the man known around campus as Dr. D, who had a doctorate from Stanford University, could have gone anywhere but instead he "used his education not to advance himself but to help others achieve their dreams."
Dr. Dennis, 59, was slain on Feb. 9 in his Oakland hills home; Troy Tyrone Thomas III, 43, has been charged with murder, extortion and burglary.
While acknowledging the tragic end to Dr. Dennis' life, the hundreds who gathered in the College Chapel chose to focus on his outgoing nature and his love for students, particularly those in the High Potential Program who overcame social, economic and educational obstacles to attend Saint Mary's. Most of those in the standing-room crowd wore purple, a color favored by Dr. Dennis.
Brian Stanley, who was a High Potential student and the former coordinator of Black Student Programs at SMC, recalled Dr. Dennis' life as a contemporary example of Saint John Baptist de La Salle, the patron saint of teachers and the founder of the Christian Brothers order that runs SMC. Dr. Dennis, Stanley said, "fearlessly entered the lives of his students" and sought to help them achieve more than they believed was possible.
"John stood in the gap between own deep sense of unbelief in ourselves and our own high potential," Stanley said. "John dreamed for us until we were able to dream for ourselves."
Brown said Dr. Dennis was a deeply committed Catholic Christian, and said that in heaven, the teacher would be greeted by Saint de La Salle with the words, "Well done, John, well done."
Brother President Ronald Gallagher noted that the College's scholarship fund for High Potential students, which Dr. Dennis contributed to annually, has been renamed the Dr. John Dennis High Potential Annual Scholarship Fund.
-- Erin Hallissy, Office of College Communications
Photo by Gorbachev Lingad '10