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Historic Baltimore basilica gets 23rd rector

By Chaz Muth
March 11th, 2008
The Catholic Review (www.catholicreview.org)

BALTIMORE, Md. (The Catholic Review) - The 23rd rector of the nation’s first Catholic cathedral was installed March 9 before a cheering crowd.

Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien officially installed Father Jeffery S. Dauses during the 10:45 a.m. Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Baltimore, which was overflowing with parishioners, friends and family of the new rector.

“Obviously, Father Jeff has a lot of friends,” Archbishop O’Brien said at the opening of the Mass – a remark that drew roaring laughter.

As the new rector of the basilica, the 44-year-old Father Dauses has the task of tending to the needs of parishioners and the hundreds of visitors who flock weekly to the historic mother church of the archdiocese.

During the installation Mass, Archbishop O’Brien advised the Baltimore native to lead with his trademark “charismatic” style, “always be a loving father and shepherd and a wise teacher.”

‘Exciting time’ for the basilica
Ordained to the priesthood in 1990 by Cardinal William H. Keeler, who also attended the installation, Father Dauses grew up in the parish of Shrine of the Little Flower, Baltimore, received a bachelor’s degree from the Borromeo College of Ohio in 1985 and completed seminary at St. Mary’s Seminary & University, Baltimore, in 1989.

Upon ordination, he served as associate pastor of St. Louis, Clarksville from 1990 to 1997 and St. Margaret, Bel Air, from 1997 to 1999.

Father Dauses’ first assignment as a pastor was the Catholic Community of St. Francis Xavier, Hunt Valley, from 1999 to 2005, and his second was Church of the Holy Apostles, Gambrills, from 2005 to 2008.

Archbishop O’Brien appointed him rector of the basilica Feb. 1 to replace Monsignor James V. Hobbs, who retired.

“This is an exciting time at the basilica,” said Father Dauses, referring to the reopening of the historic church in November 2006, after a massive two-year, $32 million restoration. “It’s a little intimidating, because of the significance of this place. The basilica is not only an important symbol in Baltimore; it’s an essential icon of faith in the nation.”

“This is a wonderful opportunity for Father Jeff and I know he’s going to be a terrific rector of the basilica,” said Steve Shamblen, 41, of Crofton, a parishioner of Church of the Holy Apostles. “My happiness for Father Jeff – who I consider a friend – is also overshadowed by sadness, because now we’ve lost him as our pastor.”
Building community
As Father Dauses settles into his new position, the 44-year-old Baltimore native already has plans to bolster parish life at the nation’s first Catholic cathedral.

Since assuming the rector’s post, Father Dauses has hosted two listening sessions at the 500-family Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“What I came away with from those meetings was that parishioners want a stronger sense of community here,” he said.

By fall of 2008, Father Dauses hopes to have a parish council seated to boost parishioner involvement.

The council was disbanded when the basilica was closed in 2004 for a $32 million restoration.

The parish council wasn’t immediately re-established when the landmark church reopened in 2006, because then-Rector Monsignor James V. Hobbs was uncertain when he would retire, and believed the new council should be empanelled under the direction of his successor.

Father Dauses also wants to set up a Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program at the basilica to help those who wish to join the Catholic Church.

Parishioners expressed an interest in finding a place for larger social gatherings near the church, and the new rector has already been granted space in the Mount Vernon Hotel for parish functions that can’t be accommodated inside of the basilica.

“There really isn’t a space in the church for these kinds of functions, so that has solved that first hurdle,” he said. “We’re also checking into some other places to use, like in the new My Sister’s Place,” which is currently being renovated and is set to open soon next to the basilica.

Scattered parishioners
Engaging the parishioners to become more active as a faith community is a challenge for a parish like the basilica, whose regular worshipers live all over the Baltimore metropolitan area, Father Dauses said.

But unifying parishioners is a goal he intends to accomplish.

“It’s an exciting time now that the renovations are done,” said Father Dauses, who was ordained in 1990 and most recently served as pastor of Church of the Holy Apostles, Gambrills. “There is a connection not only to the history of this very spiritual place. As a faith community, we’re also a part of the basilica’s future.”

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