Dean encounter God in an overwhelming and powerful experience during his junior year at a Christian school’s retreat. “I can’t think about it right now, or I will start crying,” said Dean. “I have always had a heart committed to God, but there was just something about that time. I don’t really understand it, but I knew he was calling me to ministry.”
Soon after that experience, Dean read a biography about Saint Francis of Assisi. A story about the saint’s boldness and love touched him. During the Crusades Francis walked across enemy lines and requested a meeting with the Khalif. A dream the Khalif had the night before Francis arrived spared Francis from death and opened the door for the meeting. The love that lived in Francis impressed the Khalif. He gave Francis a ram’s horn, which gave him the right to go wherever he wanted in the Khalif’s kingdom without harm.
His love for sports initially trumped his decision to become a priest. He attended Auburn University to play baseball instead of going to seminary. He met Father Francis when he joined the Catholic Student Community. The Italian priest made a lasting impression on Dean. Father Francis’ love transcended barriers. He easily connected with people of other faiths like Muslims and Jews.
His love for sports could not quench the call to ministry. When he told Father Francis about his decision to become a priest, he invited Dean to spend the summer with him in Assisi, Italy before going to seminary. Dean loved watching the rhythm of the priest’s life and his devotion to the Lord. Francis taught Dean about scripture, the church, and Jesus. Dean’s deep hunger to understand scripture prompted visits to Israel and other places mentioned in the Bible. While he sat alone in the Garden of Gethsemane Church at the foot of the Mount of Olives, he heard God call his name.
Dean returned to Louisiana and enrolled in Saint Joseph Abby and Seminary College. He loved the monks and valued their teachings about contemplative prayer. He enrolled in Notre Dame Seminary for his graduate work and entered a turbulent time of spiritual wrestling. He knew aspects of a priest’s lifestyle were not for him. The call to priesthood slipped away, but his call to ministry remained strong.
At the end of his second year, he took a year off. Dean felt like a lost puppy as he tried to find his place in ministry. He returned as a lay student to get his master’s degree, but felt uncomfortable. No longer preparing for the priesthood, he became the only seminarian dating a girl.
Dean loved and hated theology. He loved learning about God, but left seminary with his passion and love for God diminished. Something about information raised the intellect higher than the heart. His knowledge became more important than relationship, and that troubled him.
After graduation, Dean abandoned the Catholic church, but continued to read the Bible and pray. He married, they adopted a child, and he graduated with a masters in counseling, which became his ministry. Dean and HollyKem, his wife and a therapist, developed a concept for counseling which they published in 1999, A Roadmap to the Soul: A Practical Guide to Love, Compassion and Inner Peace. Together they built a successful clinic.
To accommodate their growing business, they formed a partnership. Instead of having a positive impact, business faltered. “I didn’t pray about joining the partnership, but I did when it was falling apart,” said Dean. He severed the relationship with his partner. A short time later, he felt an urgency to leave the city. He moved his family to Alabama and opened a new practice. One year later, Hurricane Katrina buried his former office under twelve feet of water.
HollyKem suggested they return to church for the sake of their son. Dean knew she was right, but he was unwilling to return to church out of obligation. They searched for a church where they could grow in their faith and offer something. They had visited several churches before they walked into a Methodist Church and felt at home. They loved the worship, the messages preached, and the people. The pastor began referring people to Dean for counseling. His positive impact on the people he counseled prompted the pastor to offer him a staff position in pastoral care.
The Methodist church exposed Dean to the ministry of Oral Roberts, an evangelist and faith healer. Reading Roberts’ autobiography, Expect a Miracle, opened him to a spiritual dimension he had only read about in the Bible, most of which he did not believe was possible anymore. The autobiography gave Dean a thirst to know more, just as the biography about Saint Francis of Assisi had. Dean wrote a letter of thanks to Oral Roberts for exposing him to a deeper understanding of God. He was pleasantly surprised when he received a letter from Oral Roberts secretary inviting him to meet with Roberts.
Roberts, semi-retired from ministry, only met with ministers. Two years before Roberts died, Dean joined a group of ministers for a private meeting in Roberts’ home. Dean walked into Robert’s home acutely aware of the power to God. The elderly evangelist’s boldness, love, and confidence impressed him.
Dean returned home knowing he needed more training. HollyKem joined him in a prayer for guidance, promising God they would go anywhere in the world to be trained. A month later, he stopped to listen to a Louisiana pastor speak on a Christian broadcast. As Dean listened to the teaching he heard, “That’s your spiritual father.” Dean began reading books by the pastor. Soon after making the commitment to go “anywhere in the world to be trained” Dean heard God say “Resign your job and attend the pastor’s church.
Dean and HollyKem visited the pastor’s church. In the middle of the message, the pastor said, “Somebody will get a house today” then returned to his message. That afternoon Dean placed a bid on a house in bankruptcy. He knew he would have a problem if he won the bid. He lived in a nice golfing community, but the house next door to his had been on the market for months with no takers. Dean prayed, “Lord, if this is you, I need you to sell my house in Alabama.”
Dean won the bid on the house in Louisiana and put a For Sale by Owner sign in his yard. The next day, a woman bought his house for significantly more than he paid for it. They moved to Louisiana with a comfortable cushion to reestablish their counseling business.
They enrolled in the church’s ministry school and served where ever they were needed as they waited for God to direct them to their field of ministry. Dean found that direction when he attended his thirty-year high school reunion at De La Salle. As he interacted with his friends’ compassion rose in his heart, and in that moment, he knew God had called him to establish a church in New Orleans.