Milton’s Bob Dunn considers himself an ordinary guy, yet his works are extraordinary.
Bob Dunn of Milton considers himself an ordinary guy, yet his works are extraordinary.
Widowed in 2006 after caring for his wife during her eight-year struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, he spends his weekends ministering to the sick and homeless. His most recent brainchild is a monthly men’s prayer gathering.
What keeps the former power grid manager going? Why not take it easy during his retirement?
“I go back to the Scriptures,” said Dunn, 78. Quoting James 2:17, he added, “Faith without good works is dead.”
This spring, the Boston Archdiocese honored Dunn’s many good works by naming him Layman of the Year.
“Bob Dunn is a light shining in the world,” wrote Geoffrey FitzGerald of Dorchester in his nomination of Dunn for the award. “(He) is an example of holiness, God’s work, in our midst.”
A typical weekend for Dunn begins at the Shattuck Shelter in Jamaica Plain on Friday night. There, he is part of a rotating team of volunteers from St. Mary of the Hills parish who serve home-baked desserts to the shelter guests, as part of an outreach program that has been in place since the 1980s. The idea for the program, however, had its beginning in an unlikely place: at a gala fundraiser.
“We ran one of the first parish retreats in the early ’80s with speakers from the archdiocese,” Dunn said, adding that it was a tremendous success for the parish. “We had wall-to-wall people. In gratitude, the pastor held a fundraiser to benefit the Office of Spiritual Development.”
It was a fancy affair at a country club, but Dunn had more humble circumstances on his mind at the event.
“I sidled up to the curate and said, ‘Father, what are we doing for the poor?’ He asked me what I had in mind, and I said, ‘I don’t know, but I’ll think of something.”'
Dunn collaborated with a nun at the parish school who also did social work in Jamaica Plain. She organized the program with the Shattuck Shelter, and parishioners have been baking and serving desserts there on Friday nights ever since.
“It’s become a Friday night staple that people very much look forward to,” said Jon Hartford, volunteer coordinator at HopeFound, the administrative organization of the Shattuck Shelter. “Both guests and staff look forward to it; it puts a smile on their faces.”
After ministering to the homeless on Friday nights, Dunn rises early on Saturdays to tend to his latest project. The Early Bird Special is a men’s prayer gathering held at St. Mary of the Hills on the third Saturday of every month. It’s open to men from Milton and Dorchester, and the early hour is a nod to people’s busy schedules.
“We came up with this idea to come from 7 in the morning to 8:30,” said Dunn, adding that some go about their busy Saturdays when the meeting is over. But he got a twinkle in his eye when he explained another reason for the early schedule: “They can stay for the rosary before the 9 parish Mass,” he said.
The Early Bird Special features prayer and song, as well as a feature presentation – usually a DVD on a Catholic topic, which is shown on a 50-inch projection television – though sometimes the group sponsors a guest speaker. Following the presentation, there is small group discussion, and more prayer. The group regularly attracts about 25 men, although they have hosted as many as 60.
“I have found it amazing that so early on a Saturday morning, so many would turn out,” said the Rev. Arthur Wright, pastor of St. Mary’s and a regular attendee. “They share how they bring their faith to bear on their own lives.”
Later Saturday, Dunn attends the 4 p.m. Mass at St. Mary’s, where you might find him serving as a lector, reading from the Scriptures; or as a Eucharistic minister, distributing communion to the faithful. The Mass is where Dunn said he recharges his batteries for his continued ministry.
“The source of my spiritual life is at Mass,” said Dunn. “If you go the Mass faith-filled, and you’re a participant, not an observer, it’s the closest you’ll ever get to Heaven on Earth.”
And for Dunn, you can see the importance with which he sees the Mass by how he spend his Sundays: He meets other volunteer chaplains at Massachusetts General Hospital to visit the sick and bring them communion, a commitment that lasts from 8:30 a.m. until noon.
Dunn has participated in this ministry for more than 20 years, and said it’s the most fulfilling spiritual activity for him.
“Of all the things I do, the core of my faith life is at MGH on Sunday morning,” he said.
Dunn summed up the reasons for his life of ministry: “I’m not going to be around forever,” he said. “I want to live out the rest of my life to be the best help and the best person I can be.”
Every morning, Dunn prays: “Lord, help me to be a blessing to everybody I meet today.”
And then he goes out and does it.
Early Bird Special
The next Early Bird Special men’s prayer gathering will be held at 7 a.m. July 19 in St. Mary of the Hills Lower Church, 29 St. Mary’s Road, Milton. Call 617-696-8394 for more information.