SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — The Rev. Denis Dougherty, longtime pastor of Springfield’s historic St. Joseph Catholic Church, died Saturday at Mercy Hospital. He was 89 years old.
Dougherty served the congregation at 1115 N. Campbell Ave. since 1999 after stints as pastor in Kansas City and far northwest Missouri.
He frequently visited the St. Joseph Catholic Academy, which is attached to the church. On Monday, the students gathered in the auditorium to share their stories and mourn.
“Amid sobs, one of the little girls said that Father Denis always blessed her mommy when she saw him,” said Bonnie Johnson, principal of the academy. “One of the older girls had written down things she wanted to say. She had a very difficult time reading it as the tears were flowing uncontrollably. She talked about how Father (Dougherty) was like a grandfather to her.”
The students wrote notes Monday that will be placed in his coffin.
“Father loved the children and they loved him,” she said, noting that he memorized the names of students. “He wanted to be able to call each one by name.”
Johnson described Dougherty as “very sharp and quick-witted” and acknowledged that she and others marveled how he led a church and a school at age 89. They referred to him as “the Energizer bunny.”
“He was a faithful servant of the Lord who fulfilled his ministry to the very end. One day at Mass, a year or so ago, he told all of us parishioners that when people ask him when he’s going to retire, he’s going to tell them that he will retire to the grave,” she said. “And, that’s exactly what he did.”
Doughtery was hospitalized for complications from an infection and prostate cancer, which was diagnosed last year.
He was admitted to the hospital in recent weeks and was visited, repeatedly, by fellow priests and his parishioners.
A visitation and Mass are scheduled this week in Springfield and at the abbey, where he will be buried.
The Iowa native graduated from Trinity High School in Sioux City in 1947 and enrolled at Creighton University in Omaha. After two years in Nebraska, he went to the Benedictine monastery of Conception Abbey near Maryville.
According to a post by the Conception Abbey, Dougherty’s “most apparent trait was boundless enthusiasm.
“Whether as pastor or teacher, he engaged his work and his charges with full attention and devotion. But his enthusiasm was always supported by a profound charity of heart: his formal education in the social sciences was motivated by a firm conviction that the followers of Christ were bound together in love. He exercised that love in the most practical terms: pastoral ministry and counseling, yes, but also programs of relief to the poor and neighborhood betterment.”
At the monastery, Dougherty completed his undergraduate program at the Conception Seminary College. He took his vows as a monk at the abbey in September 1952 and was ordained a priest in May 1956.
He received a master’s degree in sociology from Saint Louis University and a doctorate in educational psychology from the University of Missouri-Columbia. From 1963 to 1972, he was a professor at Conception Seminary College.
In the 1970s, he moved away from education and entered pastoral ministry.
The Springfield services include a visitation from 6-8 p.m. Wednesday and a funeral at 11 a.m. Thursday at St. Joseph Catholic Church. At the abbey, there will be a visitation at 5:30 p.m. Sunday and a Mass at 11:30 a.m. May 7 at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, with burial, to follow at St. Columbia Cemetery.
Dougherty was preceded in death by his parents and a brother. He is survived by his monastic community; one sister-in-law, Shiuvaun Dougherty; one nephew and seven nieces.
A history of St. Joseph Church, founded in 1906, shows that many changes happened during Dougherty’s 19-year stint as pastor. The high altar and side altar-shrines were completed along with the bells and the interior of the church. New exterior church doors and a new roof were added, along with a gathering space.
(Story shared by Springfield News-Leader. Read the original article here.)