Connecting on LinkedIn, Denis reached out to ask if I wanted to help illustrate some promotional materials for his ministry. Thinking I was being helpful and doing him a service, I happily agreed. As it always seems to go, God blesses those efforts and we end up learning so much more than we anticipate. What a gift it has been to come to know Denis Grady and his very particular, unique and genuine ministry, Franciscan and Friends.
Having befriended the Franciscan community in his area, he offered musical gifts to at their service for cultures and populations needing hope. In an inventive and collaborative effort, Denis’s ministry reaches far and wide using his his soothing voice, hopeful lyrics–and perhaps most importantly, the scars of his past struggles–to bring love and healing to others. He was good enough to send me a CD of his music and I was moved by the flavors of folk, country, and some bluesy notes dotted by his mellow and well-trained voice. Living in Nashville, I was happily transported back to the days of live music events, and knew at once that certainly Denis could have walked Music Row, making a way for himself. As you will read in his responses below, he had the opportunity to use his gift for himself, but at the wise words of a friend, changed direction. In these dark pandemic, politically-charged days, let Denis and his ministry help you lift your heart and eyes back to hoping in the Lord.
What was your earliest experience of a relationship with God?
My parents were devout Catholics. I remember going to my grand parents house for Sunday dinners and then all of us kneeling to say the rosary. When I was six years old I became an altar boy. I went to Mass every morning around 6am to say Mass. It was in Latin in those days.
How was faith encouraged in your family? Or wasn’t it?
My parents did a good job. They were very faithful to the Eucharist.
When did you start playing music? When did you know it was to be used to serve the Lord?
I started playing guitar in high school. It was the Beatles era. My older brother Paul was a big influence. He later has his songs recorded by Emmylou Harris and Anne Murray.
How did you meet the Franciscans and become involved with them? What appealed to you about their spirit and charism?
My spiritual director Father Bob Mitchell is Franciscan OFM. I’ve been seeing him since 1998. I was also connected with John Michael Talbot via the Catholic Association of Musicians. I loved the depth of Francis and focus on the poor.
How has your ministry evolved over the years? Where all has it taken you (geographically and spiritually)?
In the beginning I was writing songs and playing as much as possible. I was exposed to some great talent via brother Paul, Gordon Lightfoot, Tom Rush, Tim Hardin, Nick Drake and Jackson Browne. After Vatican Two when folk choirs became prominent in the Church I got involved. When John Michael told us that our music was about serving not winning awards and selling a lot of cds, I began focusing on prison ministry, senior’s homes and soup kitchens.1n 1980 I did some work for Dr. Billy Graham. I met some amazing American musicians and was invited to San Diego to record. I have been all over Canada, the United States, Europe, South Africa, The Caribbean and Central America. I need to add that in 1984 I came to a place of surrender. I had a big problem with drugs and alcohol. I had to admit it and go get help. I have been clean and sober ever since by the grace of God. It is part of my vocation working with others who suffer with addiction issues.
What do you feel is the most important thing people should understand about the population you are serving? (Please explain what that is too)
I love the line from St. Vincent de Paul, “Go to the poor and you will find God” Jesus is very clear in the Gospels about our responsibility to the poor. My faith has been fortified substantially by this approach.
Where can people find out more about your ministry?
Anyone who is interested can go to the website www.franciscanandfriends.ca, they can email email@example.com We are very open to working with others. Our Mission ministry has involved well over two hundred people who have travelled to engage the poor.
Share one story of one of the most spiritually impactful interchanges you have had while serving in this ministry?
I was experiencing a deep depression in the nineties. I was invited to sing at a senior’s home. I wanted to cancel but couldn’t. When I got to the facility, I began singing for about 100 older folks. A little Jewish lady came right up to the front asked me for a cigarette, if I was married and if I wanted to come to her room. I was immediately lifted form the dark night of the soul into Clara’s world. She was an amazing friend for 5 years until she went to be with the Lord. We had a lot of fun for sure. In 2017 we were invited to meet with the First Nations tribes of Southern Alberta. We have been very active fostering friendships and building community through music concerts, rodeos, prayer festivals and addiction recovery programs.
Share anything else you feel is important for others to keep in mind when serving the Lord with the gifts they have and with serving those who’s “cry” seems to reach their ears the most? (A population or group that really reaches our heart and needs our attention).
There is a great line “To get to Easter Sunday we have to go through Good Friday.” Jesus has clearly told us that He would be with us through everything. Sometimes we don’t fully grasp this until we are in serious pain, trouble, confusion. We have the sacraments, the Communion of saints and a vocation to carry us through. We need community, we need each other, we need the Lord and our Blessed Mother. I say the Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet daily. I read Richard Rohr, Henri Nouwen, Jeff Cavins, Scott Hahn and the Desert Fathers among others.