I have noticed that every remarkable person that I have had the privilege of knowing has a powerful musical refrain attached to their passing into eternal life with our Saviour and, in Dennis Dickson's case, the music came on straightaway into my ear as: "Ich Hatt' einen Kameraden." A few might surmise, correctly, that the title is German but few will know that it was written by a German poet over 200 years ago and set to music but 16 years after its creation. This, of course, is something that Dennis would well-appreciate as he had a deep and abiding love for language, poetry and music. Fewer still will know, Dennis included, that this was the German Army's traditional farewell to their comrades who had fallen in battle, otherwise known as 'gefallen.' 'Kamerad,' loses much in translation to the English 'comrade' - the latter expressing simply comradeship or friendship; the true German meaning goes far back into their history of soldiering, as even Julius Caesar knew, and it meant much more than simply 'buddy' or 'friend' as it implied the deepest of bonding that can take place between men, more akin to brotherhood and, perhaps, best expressed in the Greek word for brotherly love, 'philia.' I won't belabour this history lesson too much more but it is important that Dennis' superior capacity for brotherly love, under the most arduous of circumstances, be known to this world which treated him with such contempt and yet, paradoxically, was not worthy of him.
But a little more history from that old tune that so abundantly expresses the privilege of having Dennis Dickson as my dear friend: "Ich hatt einen Kameraden, Einen bessern findst du nit. Die Trommel schlug zum Streite, Er ging an meiner Seite In gleichem Schritt und Tritt." In English this means: "I once had a comrade, you won't find a better one. The drum was rolling for battle, he was marching by my side in the same place and stride." And what glorious battles we fought in together, side by side, against principalities and powers of the most malevolent sort: i.e., those who took in young, relatively innocent lives and spewed out ruined souls! I am speaking here of the University of Manitoba but, really, this could speak to any current-day university in the Western secular world which have become nothing much more than branch offices and factories for Hell Inc., Ltd. Dennis' great gift in battle was to get the foe to underestimate him and then clobber the same person(s) with such devastating facts and truths as to make their position, previously taken for granted, untenable. I personally witnessed how Dennis, as an impoverished priest, in far from the best of health, brought the Board of Governors and the President's Office of an extremely rich and powerful university to their collective wicked knees. His weapons of choice, as always, were a strict disciplined adherence to the truth and much prayer. However, this grand campaign was but one of many, many battles, primarily of a spiritual nature, that Dennis and I fought through together and I suspect it was the smaller, quieter fights that had Heaven's attention.
Dennis had a moral courage that defied normal human bounds as he would not shrink from facing the most painful of truths nor would he permit others to flee the searching of such penetrating light. And yet he was merciful, kind and, more often than not, would remove himself from any situation wherein another might be hurt. One such example will always have me in awe of him: i.e., while Dennis never married he, nevertheless, longed for a good wife and this was something both he and I prayed for through the many years that I knew him. Yet, the one young woman who had expressed such interest in him was not intensely committed while Dennis was deeply in love with her. The average man would have probably put up with such a compromise of the heart but Dennis told her that he loved her enough that he could not be with her as eventually he would become a burden to her unsteady heart. This was heartbreaking for Dennis but it was also true and he set his course by truth, no matter how painful, and never strayed.
For a man who lived a solitary life Dennis was not lonely nor was he without a great deal of love in his heart for others, indeed, the most substantial feature of Dennis was love as he loved God with a passion best befitting a prophet of ancient Israel and he often reminded me of what we know of John the Baptist in this. He kept a careful, loving watch on his mother when she was alive - a watch that intensified as the ailments of aging crept up on Agnes before her passing. He loved his earthly father, Lew Dickson, with a heart heavy from hurt as Lew had been less than he should have been with his family. Ironically, one of Dennis' great joys as a Christian was witnessing to his worldly father and then being shown a true repentance by Lew on his death- bed; a rare joy indeed. His sister Lori, and her children were deeply and lovingly imbedded in his heart at all times and he often told me how they were doing. He loved helping children as more than amply demonstrated in the fact that he was one of the founding members of Big Brothers of Winnipeg. He maintained a very kind and abiding interest in my own son, James. He loved and remained deeply concerned over the lives of his parishioners and again, his searchlight delivery of the truth to new parishioners was something to behold: i.e., he would warn them that if they stayed-the-course with Christ that they would be in for a rough time, especially if they were used to a relatively comfortable North American existence. I recall, with great mirth now, how he admonished a new parishioner, Pat, that he should only trust in Jesus and to "put not your trust in Princes nor in any son of man." Because they will let you down - and then he underscored this fact to Pat by bluntly stating "for Heaven's sake - I will let you down!" Pat must have wondered what he had let himself in for by joining our tiny St. Thomas a Becket Church in Winnipeg with a priest who spoke more like an Ayatollah but, as a former missionary to Africa, Pat liked all that he heard from Dennis and stayed with the Church until his death. God, man and the Church were Dennis' greatest loves but he had many, many others, such as music, good books, art and movies. We spent many happy hours in his Spartan apartment regaling each other over the latest book or, more often than not, movie. For Dennis argued, with much power, that movies were the highest art as they incorporated visual and audio arts that spoke directly to the soul; as such, his favorite directors tended to be Italian because they seemed to him more interested in genuine human love and charity than did their compadres in Hollywood. Although, I should quickly add, that there was much out of Hollywood that he liked as well.
Dennis had been gifted with the precision of French scholarship and thinking and he always gravitated that way in his intellectual processes - such as writing. His greatest labour of love was a work that he was still refining, entitled the Theology of Love, when God decided to call him home. Essentially it was an intellectual work, of daunting intensity, concerned with reconciling the Roman and Protestant Churches. It was the work of the finest of French intellectuals and, I suspect, would have been received with considerable satisfaction in some of the academies of France while, on this side of the Atlantic, it seemed to plumb too deep for those whom it was intended. But, in the final analysis, Dennis was not at all perturbed or thwarted by the lack of recognition his good work deserved - precisely because it was a labour of love and a sacrifice to God; for Dennis' golden heart, the simple act of doing something out of love was reward enough.
The hallmarks of Dennis Dickson's life on this side of the veil were those of love and truth and they were made manifest in all that he did since I first met him back in 1987. In making these so central to the life of his disciplined soul, along the way, he also became a true Holy man of God's. It is with substantial wonder that I look back now and see this process as it blossomed forth for well I remember Dennis and I talking about what a Holy man Fr. Phillip Sergeant was, as he had been Dennis' mentor and guide into the Anglican Catholic Church. Dennis would have scarce believed that he had become as Holy as his spiritual master here on earth and yet, through the miracle of God's love and Dennis' response to that miracle, he has indeed become as Fr. Sergeant. What a magnificent transformation it has been for me to witness and what a splendid man you became my good friend, Fr. Dennis Dickson.
But to me, when all has been said and done, Dennis remains my dear, dear friend whom I shall miss. And so, with considerable grief I must close with: "Kann dir die Hand nicht geben, Bleib du im ew'gen Leben Mein guter Kamerad, Mein guter Kamerad." In English: "Can't give you my hand for now, you rest in eternal life My good comrade, My good comrade!"