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Press Release

  Contact: Mary Ellen Robinson



Maryknoll U.S. regional superior and longtime missionary in Venezuela and China,
Fr. Cleary brings New York-based media organization back to its Maryknoll heritage

NEW YORK, March 2, 2009 -- Father Dennis Cleary, M.M., Maryknoll’s former U.S. regional superior and a veteran missionary in both Venezuela and China, has been appointed Director of The Christophers, the New York-based media organization announced today. Father Cleary, a native of Buffalo, N.Y., assumes the office today.

Father Dennis Cleary, M.M.

The appointment of a Maryknoll priest to serve as Director completes a cycle for The Christophers.  Father James Keller, who founded The Christophers in 1945, was a Maryknoll priest, as was his successor, Father Richard Armstrong. For more than 30 years, beginning with Father John Catoir’s tenure as Director in 1978, no Maryknoll priest served in that role - although several have been members of the Organization’s Board of Directors. Father Cleary’s appointment renews that Maryknoll connection and will take The Christophers into a new era.

For the last two years, he has been Director of Maryknoll’s Mission Education and Promotion Department, and brings a wealth of experience--not only in mission and leadership roles, but also in donor relations--to his new assignment.

“Father Cleary’s appointment is wonderful news for The Christophers,” said John F. Flaherty, Chairman of the Board of Directors of The Christophers. “He’s a long-time friend of our organization, and comes to us with a working knowledge of our operations and of all the services we provide.”

“I’m looking forward to working with Father Cleary,” said Mary Ellen Robinson, who as Vice President of The Christophers is responsible for overseeing its day-to-day operations. “I’ve known him for many years, and I’m happy to say he’s been on hand for many of our events and activities. He knows the message of hope and encouragement that we spread all over the world, and I believe that our friends and supporters will welcome his caring presence.”

Ms. Robinson and Bob Okulski, The Christophers’ Interim President, were members of the Search Committee that recommended Father Cleary’s appointment to the Board of Directors. “Once Father Cleary received permission from Maryknoll to apply for the position, the choice was relatively easy,” said Okulski. “Both the Search Committee and the full Board met several times with Father Cleary, and we were impressed not only by his experience, but also with the spiritual qualities he brings to the position.”

Father Cleary expressed his own long-standing admiration for The Christophers and the organization’s message. “I am inspired by The Christophers’ motto: ‘It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness,’” he said.  “I am honored to follow and engage the journey of mission and the vision of hope begun by my predecessors, in particular Father James Keller, M.M., as I join the Christopher team that is composed of very talented, creative and committed women and men.  I truly look forward to serve with them seeking their guidance and support as I begin this new endeavor rooted in the vision and motto of The Christophers.” 

Father Cleary, ordained for Maryknoll in 1977 by the late Bishop James E. Walsh, M.M., was a missionary in Venezuela from 1976 to 1993. Living among the poor in barrios in the area of Barinas, he showed an early interest in communications projects. He created a popular program called Channel Zero, which included training, filming, editing and disseminating news among three barrios. He also launched a production studio in Caracas that prepared documentaries and barrio forums aimed at motivating faith-based Christian communities as well as resolving problems within them. For three years, beginning in 1990, he was Maryknoll’s regional superior in Venezuela.

Returning to the United States, Father Cleary spent four years as Maryknoll Mission Promoter and Educator in Houston, Texas and as Regional Director of the Maryknoll house in Jacksonville, Florida.

In 1997 he was elected Maryknoll’s U.S. Regional Superior, assigning and supporting men to mission ministries in the United States, and served on the Maryknoll Senior Management Team. He also represented Maryknoll in U.S. Church organizations, including the Conference of Religious Superiors of Men and the U.S. Catholic Bishops Mission Committee, which he chaired.

He taught English and Spanish at a university in Shenyang, China, from 2004 to 2006. During that period, he also led a reflection group for members of the local Church in Shenyang, prepared language and cultural orientation programs for new teachers and counseled university students.

Father Cleary returned to the U.S. in 2006 as Maryknoll’s Director of Mission Education and Promotion, continuing in that post until his appointment by The Christophers. He restructured the department and developed stronger connections with Maryknoll sponsors and partners, taking part personally in visits and other pastoral activities involving Maryknoll contributors.

Father Cleary received a B.A. degree from St. John Vianney Seminary, and holds both M.Div. and M.A. degrees from the Maryknoll School of Theology. He has also studied at the University of Notre Dame, the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, Cal.; Gonzaga University and Canisius College.

Some of Father Cleary’s Maryknoll associates will also be available to assist with Christopher events as Associate Chaplains, according to The Christophers.

Father Cleary will be the sixth priest to serve as director of The Christophers, which uses the media to promote the message that everyone can make a positive difference in the world.  Among its activities are Christopher News Notes, newsletters on timely topics that appear 10 times a year and have a circulation of 1,122,300; “Christopher Closeup” interviews, which are broadcast on The Catholic Channel on satellite radio and 50 other stations; the popular “Three Minutes a Day” series and other Christopher books; the Christopher Leadership Course and its companion Leadership Course for Teens; a Web site ( with interactive features including daily prayers, reading selections and video and podcasts, and the prestigious Christopher Awards, which are presented annually to creators of outstanding work in film, television and books. The 60th Christopher Awards will be presented at a gala in New York on April 16.