By Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald Commentary
Dennis Adams was attending St. Peter Church in Covington in 2004 when it looked as though his dream of becoming a permanent deacon might be going up prematurely in smoke – and it was not the kind of white smoke emanating from the Sistine Chapel.
Adams had grown up in a north Louisiana town of only two Catholic families, and he had to travel 20 miles to get to Mass on Sunday.
After many years of attending Manresa for retreats, Adams approached his pastor, Father Bill McGough, and asked if he would support him as he discerned a possible vocation to the permanent diaconate.
In the fall of 2004, Adams was thrilled to learn he had been chosen to join two dozen other men that December for their first discernment session.
But one week before the first meeting, Adams lost his job.
“I had sense enough to know there was no way I was going to be ordained a deacon unless I was gainfully employed,” Adams said, laughing. “I knew the archdiocese wasn’t in the business of financially supporting its deacons.”
After the meeting, Adams spoke to a good friend, parishioner Bobby Barousse, who was a member St. Peter’s finance committee.
“Well, Dennis, the devil is testing you,” Barousse told him.
A few days later, Adams mentioned his job plight to another parishioner, Joe Parks, who was a member of the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ Finance Council. Parks knew that the archdiocese was looking for someone to assume the leadership of Christopher Homes, the archdiocese’s affordable housing ministry, started by Archbishop Philip Hannan in 1966 and run impeccably for decades by Thomas Perkins.
Since Adams had a working knowledge of real estate – having served for years at Beau Chene Golf and Country Club – he threw his resume into the mix. In January 2005, he became executive director of a ministry responsible for providing affordable housing to 2,400 low-income seniors.
Nearly seven months to the day after beginning his new job, Hurricane Katrina hit.
“I didn’t even know how to spell HUD (Housing and Urban Development) much less understand it,” Adams said. “My entire professional career in senior housing has been recovery from the storm.”
Adams did go on to ordination as a permanent deacon in 2009 – the first class of permanent deacons ordained in New Orleans by Archbishop Gregory Aymond.
“We had been known as the ‘Katrina Class’ until our ordination,” Deacon Adams said. “At our ordination, Archbishop Aymond renamed us the ‘Class of Hope and Perseverance.’”
Incredibly, Christopher Homes is restored to its pre-Katrina levels of ministry.
“We are fully recovered and have over 2,400 apartments and are operating at 100-percent occupancy with probably 2,000 names on our waiting list,” Deacon Adams said.
In the little things that make a difference, Deacon Adams sees the hand of God.
While the federal government paid to restore the historic St. Martin’s Manor after Katrina – equipping it with an industrial kitchen that would be the pride of any commercial establishment – it also slipped in new rules that would not allow Christopher Homes to use federal monies in its budget to operate the kitchens.
That’s when Deacon Adams got creative about five years ago. Working with Troy Duhon, a graduate of Archbishop Shaw High School who founded the Giving Hope Foundation, the kitchen at St. Martin’s Manor, using manpower provided by Duhon, now cranks out 600 hot lunches a day, four days a week, and serves them to seniors not only at St. Martin’s but at other Christopher Homes locations.
The food comes from Second Harvest Food Bank, a ministry of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
Everything is free.
“No cost to our seniors,” Deacon Adams said. “Just think if we had to pay even $3 or $4 for each meal. It has just blossomed.”
Duhon thought so much of his collaboration with Deacon Adams that his foundation named him a
“Hope Hero” at a recent gala.
Growing up in an area of 2 percent Catholics, Deacon Adams loves that more than half of Christopher Homes residents are not Catholic.
“It makes no difference if you are Catholic or not when you’re homeless, elderly, hungry or needing someone to talk to,” Deacon Adams said. “Christ never asked for a card to see if someone was Jewish or not. It’s a matter of serving first and asking questions later. But, really, he never even asked the question.”