Encountering Jesus

Sharing the faith over chips and queso: deacon finds ordinary ways to evangelize

When Deacon Pat Dempsey of St. Columbkille Parish in Papillion invites people into conversations about faith, he often does so in the context of chips and queso at a local Mexican restaurant.

He calls it “Fellowchips.”

Deacon Dempsey admitted the name sounds “corny” or “cheesy” (puns intended), but he said the casual environment provides an ideal backdrop for an “elevated conversation – something deeper than politics, sports or movies.”

He said he enjoys answering faith-based questions from Catholics and non-Catholics alike. He also shares the ups and downs of his personal journey in an ordinary way.

“I’ll share glory stories, but I will also share stories of my dropping the ball,” he said. “I am delighting in discovering the person Jesus made me to be … and I want other people to have that same experience.”

Deacon Dempsey was ordained less than a year ago, but he’s been eagerly engaging with people and evangelizing for years. He described his own faith journey as a “series of dominoes” that directed him toward Jesus over the course of many years, rather than through a single moment of conversion.

After twelve years of Catholic education, he fell away from the practice of his faith in college. His wife, Michelle, brought him back, particularly with the intent to raise their kids Catholic.

Deacon Dempsey is pictured with his wife, Michelle. COURTESY PHOTO

Years later during Lent, he started listening to a podcast hosted by Catholic Answers as an alternative to secular media.

“I was really amazed at what I was learning,” Deacon Dempsey said. “I’m a cradle Catholic, but I was discovering aspects of my faith that I had probably been exposed to before but never had ears to hear.”

His newfound enthusiasm led him to create short, simple “Catholicism 101” posts on his personal Facebook page. Gradually, the content shifted toward sharing his own faith experience.

“I try to intermingle the ‘regular guy’ stuff with faith-based posts,” he said.

Deacon Dempsey said he learned “the hard way” that some topics weren’t conducive to online conversation.

“I’ve made a number of mistakes on Facebook,” he admitted. “Over time, I’ve realized that it is pointless and counterproductive to argue [online]. Those kinds of discussions have to be had in person … when you can look into each other’s eyes and there’s body language and care.”

“Early on I would say things that I still think are true, but they didn’t help,” he said.

Nicole Cook, director of mission at St. Columbkille, said she has had the privilege of watching Deacon Dempsey’s evangelization style evolve over the last decade.

Cook said he initially conveyed: “This is the truth, and you need to know it too.” As time went on, however, she said, he shifted to: “This is the truth, and I want to invite you into it.”

“It’s really beautiful to see that change and to see … (him) share the Gospel and the teachings of the Church in such a way that it inspires people and makes them want to be a part of it,” Cook said. “It’s really fun to see the way people are drawn to Jesus through him.”

As a permanent deacon ordained in 2023, he said he desires to be closely connected to his parishioners.

Deacon Pat Dempsey, pictured at left, helps administer the sacrament of Baptism at the Easter Vigil at St. Columbkille. He has been involved with the parish’s Order of Christian Initiation of Adults (OCIA) program for 10 years and was director of last year’s program. COURTESY PHOTO

“I want to ‘smell like the sheep’ to use Pope Francis’ words,” he said. “A deacon stands in the gap between the clergy and the laity, so smelling like the sheep means being one of them.”

As such, while Deacon Dempsey continues to evangelize via social media, building relationships “in real life” remains a priority.

“We need community, and we need the influence of regular folks outside the context of Mass to know how to actually live our Christian life,” he said.

Ruben Cano can attest to this fact. Cano met Deacon Dempsey at a Christians Encounter Christ (CEC) retreat in 2014, during a time when he was not active in his faith.

“[Pat] just had a fire about Catholicism within him,” Cano said. “We had some really great conversations that sparked a friendship.”

Cano has since moved from Nebraska to Kansas, but he continues to stay in touch with his friend.

“Pat has always been somebody I can reach out to about my faith,” he said. “The Lord has always kept Pat in my path, especially in those moments when I needed some clarity.”

“When I hit a point when I need to make some spiritual changes in my life, out of the blue Pat will message me, or I will run into him,” Cano said. “It’s more than just a coincidence. There’s a divine intervention with Pat.”

Deacon Dempsey emphasized that the ways he shares his faith are very ordinary.

“I’m convinced if you want to evangelize, you just have to start and do with the little bit that you can,” he said.

God does “all the work,” Deacon Dempsey said, referring to the image of the potter and the clay.

“The Lord is continuing to refashion me on the [potter’s] wheel and remove some of the rough spots and every once in a while, slap a new handle on the side,” he said.

Deacon Dempsey delivers a homily at a recent Mass at St. Columbkille. KIMBERLY JANSEN

“We don’t transform ourselves,” he said. “Jesus transforms us…but we have to assent to that.”

Deacon Dempsey said he spent many years pushing holiness off to “someday,” but Jesus calls everyone to follow Him today.

“These misconceptions we have about what it would be like to be intentional about following the Lord, they melt away when we just start saying ‘yes,’” he said. “When you say ‘yes,’ and you do what He wants you to do, He makes it work.”

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