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St. Pat’s ponders future

Msgr. Lally served parish 22 years

By Scott Bellile


St. Patrick’s Parish has no immediate plans to close following the departure and death of the priest who served it for more than 20 years.

Monsignor Dennis Lally, 77, died from complications due to cancer Thursday, July 21. The administrator of the town of Lebanon’s rural Catholic church since 1994, Lally took time off this month but didn’t officially retire before his death.

“He really was still active in his role, and I think with his illness or whatever he had, was still very much trying to trek along,” said Sarah Bradford, communications coordinator for the Diocese of Green Bay.

Brian Anderson, secretary-trustee for St. Patrick’s, said the church knows little about its future plan at this time other than visiting priests will fill in through September or October, and the fall CCD program is still on for now.

If the Diocese’s long-term plan calls for keeping the church’s doors open, decisions will be made on whether to get a full-time pastor or one who is shared with other parishes, and whether to eliminate any weekly masses if he will be shared, Anderson said.

“It’s hard to support three masses every weekend,” Anderson said. “So the reality of it is we’re probably going to look at cutting down to two … People understand. They understand that some changes will need to happen in order to sustain. But when that would happen I’m not too sure. Right now the plan is to keep going as long as we can with three.”

Concerned church members attended a July 19 all-parish meeting with Tom Long of the Green Bay Diocese to learn whether there are considerations to shut down St. Patrick’s. St. Patrick’s is a small church operating at a time when priests are in short supply in Wisconsin.

“At this point we’re saying it’s not [closing],” Anderson said. “Obviously we’re going to have a [visiting] priest for the next few months. But we really don’t know anymore information beyond the next two or three months here.”

Lally took a break around the Fourth of July weekend due to his illness and didn’t return to work. He lived out his remaining weeks in room 107 at St. Joseph Residence, where he had also worked as chaplain.

Heidi Stein, secretary for St. Patrick’s, described Lally as “stubbornly ill” because while a visiting priest led mass for all of June, Lally worked through his illness behind the scenes. He planned masses, scheduled lectors, wrote the church bulletin and prepared a couple for matrimony, all without announcing his illness to the parish.

“I found it admirable that he would work like that,” Stein said.

“He worked right up until he died until he couldn’t go out and say mass,” Anderson said. “Just a very hardworking, very dedicated, incredible person.”

According to his obituary, Lally was born in Minneapolis and ordained in 1965. He served as assistant pastor at several parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Paul. Pope Paul VI granted Lally the title of Honorary Prelate in 1974. In 1981, Lally transferred to the Archdiocese of Green Bay and served churches in Appleton and Green Bay before coming to St. Patrick’s in 1994.

“He was a city man who truly just embraced this rural community and the Irish people around it,” Stein said. “And he really truly cared about the people he served.”

Melissa Mulroy, the church’s cantor and guitarist, described Lally as a man who included men, women, teens and children on his altar during masses. Lally enjoyed coming to parishioners’ homes for dinner, even if he was a fussy eater who refused any sauces. He used his classical music background to lead the singing “in his fine baritone” whenever Mulroy couldn’t attend mass.

“Father Lally’s manner of delivery was a quiet voice that expressed his educated and insightful reflections on the weekly Bible readings,” Mulroy said of his preaching. “Sometimes he threw in a bit of old-fashioned humor, such as admitting he tended to run a bit late. He said that his mother told him, ‘You are just like a cow’s tail: always behind.’

“He was a good friend,” Mulroy said. “I’ll really miss working with him. We worked together for 20 years and I just can’t imagine the change. I can’t go to him anymore with any questions or ideas. We just have to hope we get a good, understanding thoughtful pastor in his place.”

Lally’s visitation was scheduled for Wednesday, July 27, from 5 to 7 p.m. at St. Patrick’s, followed by a prayer service. His funeral is Thursday, July 28, at 11 a.m. at St. Patrick’s, with Bishop David Ricken leading it.

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