Following the Second World War, a swelling population and rapid housing development on Madison’s East Side necessitated the formation of a new Catholic parish. Miss Esther Dempsey donated eleven and one half acres of beautiful and expansive land, her family homestead, for this new parish.
Bishop William P. O’Connor established the founding of Saint Dennis Parish on June 1, 1956. The first pastor, Father Joseph Niglis, was joined by approximately five hundred families in a temporary, steel fabricated building that was dedicated on December 2nd of that year. That structure still exists at the heart of the present church complex as the chapel, sacristy, and social area just north of today’s spacious church lobby.
Saint Dennis School opened September 7, 1960 under the leadership of the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa. The 2010-2011 school year commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the school with significant celebrations. It remains an important part of parish life today providing a Catholic education for students in 4K through eighth grade.
Historical Images Gallery
On November 7, 1960, an aerial photograph was taken of Saint Dennis. The view, looking to the north-east, shows the connection between the school gym and the church is yet to be built, Stoughton Road is still a 2-lane highway, and the original Farm & Fleet is across from Saint Dennis, on Stoughton Road. Additionally, the Dempsey homestead is clearly visible in the foreground (thanks to Bob Spoerl for sharing this).
In addition to the school, the parish provides a strong Faith Formation program for students in the public elementary, middle, and high schools in this area. Many opportunities for adult education are also offered.
Father Delbert Klink became the second pastor of Saint Dennis in 1981. On the feast of Saint Dennis one year later, October 9, 1982, Bishop Cletus O’Donnell broke ground for a permanent church building which had fulfilled the dreams of many parish members. The church was used for the first time on June 13, 1983 as Bishop George Wirz conferred the sacrament of Confirmation on an enthusiastic group of young adults. Then, once again, on the feast of Saint Dennis, October 9, 1983 Bishop Wirz returned to dedicate the new church.
When Father Kent Schmitt returned to Saint Dennis in 1994 as the third pastor, the parish was already outgrowing its existing space. A Strategic Planning Task Force of over thirty parishioners worked diligently the next two years to study the future needs of the parish. The result is the newest building, the Saint Dennis Parish Center, dedicated by Bishop William Bullock on the feast of Saint Dennis, October 9, 1999.
In 2007 the Diocese of Madison formed a partnership of the parishes of Saint Dennis, Immaculate Heart of Mary, Saint Bernard and Saint Peter to better conserve and share the resources of each parish due to the shortage of priests.
On October 8, 2008 a dedication ceremony was held for the “Celebration of Life Garden” located outside the back door of the church. It holds many memories of the families of Saint Dennis.
The 2,300 families of Saint Dennis are served by truly dedicated professional pastoral and support staffs, and an active Parish Pastoral Council with its many commissions and committees. An incredible number of caring lay people serve in volunteer capacities in the parish’s many ministries and other areas of parish life.
The Saint Dennis Festival, which occurs yearly on the last full weekend of July, is probably the best attended social event of the year on the East Side of Madison. It requires hundreds of volunteers working throughout the year and during the Festival weekend to make it successful. It bonds the family of Saint Dennis and assists with the financial needs of the parish.
As a blessed parish we live our mission statement: “Saint Dennis is a Catholic community that invites and encourages all to live a faith-filled journey with Jesus Christ.”