St. Dominic’s Oktoberfest serves up faith with beer, food and fun

Roxanne King

The original Oktoberfest was a party that—against tradition—was open to all, not just royalty, to celebrate the wedding of Bavaria’s Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. It was so popular it became an annual tradition.

St. Dominic Church’s Oktoberfest, now in its fourth year and set from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Oct. 15 at the parish on the corner of 29th Avenue and Federal Boulevard in Denver, is similar in that it welcomes everyone—believers or not—to celebrate and build community as it features the breweries, food vendors and musicians of the Highland’s neighborhood, while spreading awareness of the church.

“We want people in the neighborhood to know that wherever they are in their faith journey, we’re here for them and welcome them,” said Dominican Father Wesley Dessonville, 34, the parish’s new parochial vicar who oversees its young adult activities.

Although a native of rural Minnesota and ordained just four months ago in St. Louis, Father Dessonville knows St. Dominic’s well as he spent his first year of priestly formation in the novitiate house adjacent to the church. He also spent his diaconal year at the parish, which turns 127 this month.

“It’s a great parish,” he said. “I’m happy to be here.”

And he’s excited about the special way the religious roots of beer will be highlighted at this year’s Oktoberfest—by offering an ale created by a Dominican brother and brewed for the occasion: St. Dominic’s ALE-leluia. It will be one of six craft beers on tap.

“It’s a crisp, Belgian amber ale,” Father Dessonville said. “Its currently on tap and doing well at Factotum Brew House.

“There’s a long history going back to the early Middle Ages of religious men brewing beer for Lent,” he added. “They would fast so they would make this really thick, substantial beer to get them through. As the tradition grew, they mastered the art.”

Food options to go with one’s suds of choice will include pretzels, sausage, and mac and cheese. Live music—from polka to Latin jazz and salsa—will include a tribute honoring the late North Denver bassist and KUVO radio DJ Jimmy Trujillo. Kids activities include pumpkin painting, a playground and an interactive fire truck display.

A project of the parish’s vibrant young adult community, last year’s Oktoberfest was the largest ever, drawing 1,200 people. But the event is just one of many the church offers that appeal to the youthful urbanites who have moved into the area the last several years, drawn by the nearness to downtown, charming bungalows and modern lofts, tree-lined streets and unique commercial districts.

“We’ve had hiking in the mountains with Mass, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, social events, pot-luck dinners, and Inquiry sessions where people just come with their questions about the faith,” Father Dessonville said. “And there are a lot of opportunities for catechesis and evangelization.”

Capitalizing on the opportunity Oktoberfest offers to spark interest in the faith, the parish’s evangelization team will have a booth there and festival-goers may tour the church and may attend the 4 p.m. Saturday Mass.

The Dominicans—officially the Order of Preachers—whose charism is teaching and preaching, will mark their 800th anniversary in December. They strive to foster the faith in their parishioners that they might be able to pass it on to others.

“The parishioners see themselves as ministers of welcoming,” Father Dessonville said. “The whole leadership team, staff and parishioners work as one bringing the Gospel to people.”

St. Dominic’s Oktoberfest

When: 2 p.m. – 9 p.m., Oct. 15

Where: St. Dominic Church parking lot, 2915 Federal Blvd., Denver

Cost: Free admission. Food and beer available for purchase.

Featured image by Bill Skowronski/Dominican Friars Central Province USA

COMING UP: Searching for wisdom in a confused world

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Jordan Peterson became an overnight celebrity with the success of his book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Random House, 2018). A viral interview from January of this year with Kathy Newman of England’s Channel 4 News brought immediate attention to Peterson’s newly released book, which has sold over two million copies since its release. The interview proved emblematic of Peterson’s popularity for attempting to retrieve common sense and to push back against the ideology overtaking our society.

Why has Peterson proved to be so popular?  A clinical psychologist, who teaches psychology at the University of Toronto, Peterson addresses issues that people care about: finding meaning, relationships, parenting, and gender, to name a few. People are looking for a guide, they desire wisdom — knowing how to order and make sense of reality — and Peterson has offered some needed insights. He tells his readers, “Don’t underestimate the power of vision and direction. These are irresistible forces, able to transform what might appear to be unconquerable obstacles into traversable pathways and expanding opportunities. Strengthen the individual. Start with yourself. Take care with yourself. Define who you are. Refine your personality. Choose your destination and articulate your Being” (63).

This quote illuminates both the allure of Peterson’s writing, helping people to seek definition for their lives, but also its limits, as the definition of self he recommends lacks mooring. Writing from the viewpoint of secular psychology, Peterson can help us to reflect, but his 12 Rules for Life can come across as sophisticated self-help devoid of deeper wisdom. He engages the Western tradition, including the Bible, and offers a fresh, but ultimately unsatisfying, reflection of the stories that define our tradition. He does bring needed common sense, such as “stop doing what you know to be wrong,” (which should not even need to be said) but fails to provide answers to the ultimate questions that define meaning and identity (157).

Greater depth and wisdom can be found in Leon Kass’ Leading a Worthy Life: Finding Meaning in Modern Times (Encounter, 2017). Kass, a Jewish medical doctor and bioethicist, draws from his lengthy experience in science and teaching the Great Books at the University of Chicago to take us deeper into the human condition and point us toward a richer understanding of the human person — body, mind and soul. Kass, like Peterson, does not write from a religious perspective, but engages the same general themes and classic works, such as the Bible, though with a more convincing explanation of their meaning.

Kass’ book has four major sections, treating themes of love, human dignity, education and our higher aspirations. Kass guides us to reconsider the importance of the foundational goods of life — finding meaning in work and married life — as well as calling us to “the cultivation in each of us of the disposition actively to seek the truth and to make the truth our own” (256). We pursue this liberation by entering into the great tradition of Western thought, which provides an “education in and for thoughtfulness. It awakens, encourages, and renders habitual thoughtful reflection about weighty human concerns, in quest of what is simply true and good” (ibid.).

The thoughtfulness encouraged by Kass is needed more than ever to address the key concerns he raises: a collapse of courtship and marriage, biomedical challenges to the integrity of human nature, and a decline of citizenship. The first two themes share a common source in the “the rejection of a teleological view of nature,” which finds no intrinsic purpose in the human body or even life itself (54). Speaking of the threat of biotechnology and transhumanism, but in a way applicable to gender as well, he relates that “only if there is a human givenness that is also good and worth respecting — either as we find it or as it could be perfected without ceasing to be itself — does the given serve as a positive guide for choosing what to alter and what to leave alone” (149). We must learn to appreciate and cultivate the good of our nature, rather than manipulating and controlling it to our own demise. The same is true of our nation, as Kass, drawing on Abraham Lincoln, points to the need for “enhancing reverence for the Constitution and its laws” (377), as we appreciate, preserve and advance the heritage of our country.

Kass, drawing on his unique background, guides us through an integrated discovery of the good and points us toward the wisdom we need to live a worthy life.