MADISON -- In their new Celebration of Life garden, outside the front doors of the church, parishioners of St. Dennis Parish watched as the papers for their mortgage -- fully paid -- were burned in a ceremony that is the dream of many a homeowner.
St. Dennis Church was built in the 1980s, a permanent structure to replace the temporary church built when the parish was founded in 1956. It incorporated the temporary church, which formed the sacristy, chapel, and social area, into its larger structure.
To mark the occasion on which this enlargement was fully paid and completely their own, the parish held a “burning of the mortgage” ceremony after their Saturday Mass. Parishioners, pastor Fr. Kent Schmitt and parochial vicar Fr. Lance Schneider, and Deacon David Hendrickson gathered outside in the life garden and watched as Eagle Scout and longtime altar server Michael Huttenhoff set the mortgage papers afire on October 11.
Ground had been broken for the new church by Bishop Cletus F. O’Donnell, the second bishop of Madison, on the Feast of St. Dennis, October 9, 1983. It was dedicated exactly a year later by Bishop George O. Wirz (who wore, incidentally, the same stole Father Schmitt wore 24 years and two days later as they celebrated their fully paid church).
The ceremony for this event took place in the parish’s new Celebration of Life garden on the east side of the church. The garden, dedicated during October’s Respect Life Month, was a parish project to highlight the importance of life.
“It was a question of ‘How do you talk about Respect Life?’” Father Schmitt said. Many of the bricks in the garden are in memory of loved ones who have died, some for family members, a couple for still-born children, he said. Other bricks are to honor those yet living.
“It was everybody’s way of memory making and memory keeping,” said Father Schmitt.
The garden was designed by landscape architect and parishioner Sandy DeVault with bricks eagerly donated by many parishioners. “We also wanted to make enough space for outside events, or for pictures at special events, like weddings,” DeVault said.
And it is still under construction. Art Schmaltz, the local artist of the sculpture in the center of the garden, will be designing the bases for granite benches to be placed in the garden for rest and contemplation. The sculpture, called the “Spirit of Life,” melds various Christian themes around a central sphere that symbolizes the trinity, the world, and, on another level, the installment of the human spirit in life.
As the garden continues to grow, with new benches and new lightposts, DeVault hopes that more will become interested in sharing in the remembrance: “Now that they see it,” she said, “I think people will be even more eager to have a loved one remembered.”