“Look, you don’t have to worry about it,” the Rev. Dennis Gang, TOR, advised tenderly, sharing what he once told someone discerning a religious vocation. “God doesn’t have that many people who want to be a priest, a nun, or a religious brother. He’s not gonna mess up.”
After several years away from Franciscan University of Steubenville, Gang has returned to his alma mater, this time as chaplain for faculty and staff, alumni and the baseball team. He also writes music for his guitar, one of the most recent works being a tune set to the words of Psalm 117. Despite his many tasks, Gang always wears a smile, and his cheery disposition and engaging homilies have touched many students since he arrived on campus in fall 2019.
Throughout his life, Gang has experienced both being close and being very far away from God, and his path to priesthood shows how God did not give up his life despite his attempts to ignore God’s call.
“When my first spiritual director … said in September of my senior year, ‘Did you ever think about becoming a priest?’, I said, very honestly, ‘Don’t you ever mention that again’,” Gang admitted with a smile. “I wasn’t open.”
Gang grew up in the small town of Bay Village, Ohio. He began to attend Franciscan University in the fall of 1967, coming to a very different Franciscan than what exists today.
“There were very few buildings,” Gang recalled. “We had four dorms: Francis, Marian, Tommy More and Trinity.”
While at Franciscan, Gang began to become involved in many different activities, including student government and sports. He also began to develop a friendship with the Rev. Michael Scanlan, TOR.
“My first person who was a major influence in my life … was Father Mike Scanlan,” Gang said. “In orientation week, he and I played tennis. Later, in that same week … he had the power to change my position from having to take a language my freshman year … and by doing that, guaranteed I’d stay.”
Gang experienced many interesting things while at Franciscan, including closures due to race riots, a delay in the start of his freshman semester due to the building of the third floor of St. Francis hall and, interestingly, being an agnostic.
“Even though I came as a good Catholic,” Gang said, “(I) lost the faith so much so that I protested the building of Christ the King (Chapel).”
As Gang returned to his junior year of college, he began to date a freshman who was involved in student government with him. She encouraged Gang to return to church.
“I didn’t go there because of the faith. I went there to be with her,” Gang admitted.
As their relationship developed, his girlfriend challenged Gang to attend a retreat. However, a negative experience at the retreat caused Gang to refuse to speak to his girlfriend until one of his professors encouraged him to talk to her again. His apology call to her was one that changed his entire life for the better.
“We’re talking on the phone,” Gang said, “and God touched me right on the phone. I had to hang up. I said, ‘God’s trying to talk to me.’ … I hung up, spent the next hour and a half in prayer … I made up very quickly all the Masses I didn’t go to on Sundays for that year and a half.”
After re-discovering the faith, Gang accompanied some students to a talk given by Ralph Martin in Loretto, Pennsylvania, about the Catholic Pentecostal movement. After the talk, Martin gave his brother-in-law’s information to Gang so that he could prepare to be baptized in the spirit.
On New Year’s Eve in 1969 going into 1970, Gang received the baptism of the spirit. Afterwards, Gang returned to Franciscan for the spring semester and started the prayer community on campus with help from the university chaplain.
“I became the music minister,” Gang said. “By the time I was a senior, I had been the regular telling my story at the retreats and trying to evangelize everybody on campus.”
It was the end of his senior year when Gang was first approached with the question of religious life. Determined to put the question off, Gang was ready to spend two years doing service. However, God had begun his work in Gang after many years of Gang ignoring God’s call, convincing him that his path in life was to become a priest.
“Why waste two years? If you’re going to be a priest, do it now,” Gang reasoned.
Gang entered the seminary in August after his senior year. His first assignment as a priest was at Franciscan, followed by years spent doing ministry in Texas, Virginia, Florida, New Mexico, Austria and Pennsylvania. Finally, at the request of the Rev. Dave Pivonka, TOR, Gang has returned to Franciscan.
While Gang did not go through a major discernment period, his journey to the priesthood proves that God can work behind the scenes in even the most stubborn of wills, constantly posing the question and simply waiting for that person to answer.
“It’s 99% God,” Gang said. “The 1% is you saying ok.”