Catholic priest takes on campus ministry
The Citadel and the seminary are a lot alike.
It was the regimented lifestyle at The Citadel that prepared The Rev. Dennis Willey, Citadel Class of 1984, for the equally regimented lifestyle of Saint Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore.
“I had already established excellent study habits and was used to having structured days,” he said. “My schedule at seminary was structured too and included morning prayers, morning meals, classes, evening meals, and mass.”
Father Willey was ordained in 1994 and has returned to his alma mater to work with Catholic cadets. He joined the religious services staff in August 2007.
Willey was born in Massachusetts and raised in Connecticut. He had never heard of The Citadel until he took the SAT. Afterward, he received a brochure from The Citadel and scheduled a visit to campus. Willey liked having the option of choosing a military career or civilian life and the luxury of not having to make a commitment right away.
Willey said he had been interested in the priesthood since he was 15. A political science major from Tango Company, Willey was involved in the Catholic Choir and the Catholic ministry during his days as a cadet. After his freshman year, he received an Army scholarship and was on track for a career in the military.
After graduating, Willey spent five years in the Army where he was a helicopter pilot. He left active duty but remained in the Army Reserve while attending Saint Mary’s Seminary.
Willey said he was thrilled to come back to The Citadel. “I love being here. It’s been a dream come true.”
Willey’s first few months at The Citadel were spent getting organized and settled in his office on the third floor of Mark Clark Hall. He’s been thinking about ways to reinvigorate the Catholic campus ministry. Willey is in charge of the Monday night Catholic religious meeting, monthly Knights of Columbus meetings and weekly Catholic Mass.
Willey said he believes that Charleston parishes benefit from the presence of cadets because of their commitment to leadership development and service. His goals include reviving the campus ministry and its programs, re-establishing The Catholic Bulldog newsletter, increasing financial support for Catholic ministries, and increasing the number of Catholic scholarships. Willey also wants to increase the number of students, faculty, and staff that attend Mass.
In addition to his duties on campus, Willey is a sacramental priest at the College of Charleston and pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in downtown Charleston.