Merging parishes, merging hearts

Categories: Around the Diocese

A story of true love for Christ, the church and each other

By Kristi Anderson
The Visitor


Dennis Dehn and Jackie Slayton will be married at Christ our Light Church in Zimmerman Sept. 12. Photo by Dianne Towalski / The Visitor

In 2008, talks were underway at the parishes of St. Edward in Princeton and St. Pius X in Zimmerman about whether or not the two parishes should become one parish community.

Jackie Slayton, a member of St. Pius X, remembers being part of a group discussion where parishioners were asked to share their feelings on the merger.

“When they got to me, the words that came out of my mouth were, ‘It’s kind of like a marriage. You have two communities coming together forming one parish. You’re going to have good times and bad times. We will have to grow in love,’” she recalled.

Little did she know how those words would ring in her ears in the coming years.

Her story

In 2001, Slayton lost her husband Rick, who had a massive heart attack. He was only 36. As a mother of four, she spent a lot of time with her children, often chaperoning youth events at their parish in Zimmerman.

Before the official merger of the parishes to the new identity of Christ Our Light in May 2010, some activities started to be combined. In February 2009, the youth directors from each of the parishes were part of a youth lock-in in Becker and Slayton was asked to chaperone.

His story

Prior to the lock-in, the parishes were planning to host their first Snowball Dance, a social event intended to build community. Youth ministry director Jenny Adams asked St. Edward’s parishioner Dennis Dehn, who often volunteered at many parish and youth events, if he had a date for the dance. When he said no, Adams picked up the St. Pius X parish directory and pointed out Slayton.

“Jackie and Dennis had a lot in common,” Adams said. “They were both single, widowed parents, each involved in their home parish and each integrating and modeling the importance of Christian and family values to the best of their abilities. I figured they would be a good match.”

Dehn, a father of three who lost his wife, Becky, to a brain aneurysm in 1999 at the age of 30, was less sure. After thinking about it for a few days, he tried calling Slayton but didn’t catch her at home. So, when Adams asked him to chaperone the youth lock-in, he was pleased to find out that Slayton also would be there.

Their story

Late into the evening of the lock-in, Dehn mustered the courage to approach Slayton.

“We had a nice conversation until he asked me if I wanted to go out sometime,” Slayton said. “I was very, very nervous. Dating was nowhere in my mind.”

But the nerves went away, she said, and the pair talked all night. “When we sat there and talked that night and shared our stories about our spouses, we each understood what the other went through,” Dehn said. “It was a big connection.”

Dehn called Slayton later the next week and she agreed to go out with him. They hit it off and began dating seriously.

“I knew how I felt about Jackie, how we felt about each other,” Dehn said. “But she kept saying we can’t get engaged until we’ve been dating at least a year.”

The following March, almost exactly a year from the time they met, Dehn, who had since accepted a position as a maintenance associate for the parish in Zimmerman, wanted to celebrate Slayton’s birthday in a special way.

“I asked her if she wanted to go to the hardware store to pick out a gift for her birthday. She loves the arts and crafts section there,” he said.

So after work, the two headed toward the store, but at the stoplight he turned the other direction. Slayton asked where he was going.

“I said, ‘I thought we’d go to the church and light some candles and say a prayer for your birthday,’” he explained.

When they got to the church, Dehn proceeded to light some candles and say a prayer. “Dennis seemed to be moving slower than usual,” Slayton said. “But as soon as we were alone, Dennis took my hand, brought me in front of the altar and asked me to marry him. Of course, I said yes.”

Dehn began telling friends and family about their engagement and they attended the diocesan marriage course. Slayton enjoyed the course and knew she loved Dehn but something didn’t feel quite right.

“I wanted to be excited like him but there was just something holding me back,” Slayton said. “I talked about it with Dennis and also with another friend who said that, in order to have a good relationship, you have to put God first, spouse second and children third. In my house, God was number one, my children were second and then Dennis. I felt I couldn’t give him that number two position.”

Slayton asked Dehn if he would be willing to wait until her youngest daughter, Heidi, graduated from high school. “He was kind enough, patient and he trusted God, so he said yes, he could wait,” Slayton said.

Happy endings

Heidi graduated in May 2015, more than five years after Dehn proposed. The couple will wed Sept. 12 at Christ Our Light South in Zimmerman with the reception to follow at Christ Our Light North in Princeton.

“Our theme is light,” Slayton said. “Our two parishes, which brought us together, are called Christ Our Light so we wanted to continue that theme.”

During the ceremony, their children and grandchildren, who make up the full wedding party, will each light a candle from the unity candle and spread the light to all the guests. The songs and readings also are light-themed.

Slayton’s work at Pacem in Terris, a retreat center near Isanti, has nurtured their faith. The couple continues to volunteer together and they pray together daily.

“I feel like I am always growing in my faith,” Dehn said. “Just having someone that’s similar to you and has a faith that is similar to you, you just know it’s going to keep growing and getting stronger.”

The couple is thankful to Adams, whom they affectionately call their “cupid angel” for the introduction. Adams said she has enjoyed watching how well they complement each other, how their faith as a couple let them not only grow closer to one another but closer to Christ.

“Each of them were advocating for openness to where the Spirit was leading our parishes amidst the process of the merger,” said Adams. “I think their relationship — being outgoing parishioners and volunteers from each parish — was one of many ways God demonstrated to all of us how much better and stronger our faith community was together as a people of faith.”