Father Dennis Blaney honored with prestigious Sagamore of the Wabash

SCHERERVILLE – Gus Grissom, Jim Davis, Garfield the cat, David Letterman, Willie Nelson, and now Father Dennis Blaney all share a prestigious honor. On March 20, Indiana State Representative Jim Pressel, of Rolling Prairie, presented the senior priest for the Diocese of Gary with the state’s highest civilian honor, the Sagamore of the Wabash.  
The announcement at the 33rd annual SHARE Foundation Spring Luncheon, attended by more than 500 Sharing Meadows supporters, caught the quiet and humble 92-year-old Father Blaney off guard. “That was a surprise. I appreciate the award,” he said.  
In 1945, then-Indiana Governor Ralph Gates created the Sagamore of the Wabash as Indiana’s highest recognition for distinguished Hoosiers. "Sagamore" is a term borrowed from the Algonquin-speaking American Indian tribes of the northeastern U.S., who used it to describe a lesser chief or great man in the tribe to whom the chief could look for wisdom, advice, and guidance. “Wabash” honors Indiana's famed river.
Honorees selected by the governor are "distinguished by his (her) humanity in living, his loyalty in friendship, his wisdom in council, and his inspiration in leadership."
Sharing Meadows, a residential community which opened in 1994 as the brainchild of Father Blaney, allows other-abled adults to live together in a caring environment and fully develop their God-given talents. Located on 200 acres northeast of LaPorte, the community is made up of five villages, each with three houses accommodating two villagers and one steward. A community center was added in 2017, and a sixteenth village is currently under construction.  
Besides 30 full-time residents, Sharing Meadows hosts Camp Sharing Meadows each summer, drawing hundreds of other-abled adults for a week of fun while learning faith-based values, participating in various activities, and making lifelong friendships. 
Pressel said, “I’ve heard Father Blaney described as caring, compassionate, determined, visionary and fun-loving, and some would say an outstanding poker player, (so) hang on to your wallet. 
“But when he’s asked to describe himself, he calls himself quiet. I don’t think so. Someone who’s quiet doesn’t accomplish all this in a lifetime, or part of a lifetime, especially (developing Sharing Meadows) in retirement,” said the state legislator. “He’s a very humble man. It’s not about the honor or glory, it’s about the villagers.”
Pressel noted that in eight years as a representative, this was only the fourth Sagamore of the Wabash award he has presented. He received Father Blaney’s nomination last year from a LaPorte resident. “We take those very seriously, so that it’s meaningful and very special when someone receives it. He’s now part of Indiana history,” said Pressel.
“It’s about time,” remarked Tessa Deaner, of Michigan City and a Queen of All Saints parishioner who’s sister, Elizabeth Skoczek, is a Sharing Meadows resident.
“What Father Blaney has done for so many families by starting Sharing Meadows; it’s not a life we would have even imagined that my sister could live and be safe,” said Deaner. 
While living in Indianapolis, Deaner mentioned Father Blaney to a local priest who remarked, “Everyone knows who Father Blaney is… even in Indy.”
Kathleen Kelly served alongside Father Blaney for many years, first as a parish secretary in Michigan City and then as Sharing Meadows executive director until her retirement. “I was very happy to see him recognized because so much of his work has been done quietly, never looking for recognition. It’s just nice that the state of Indiana realizes the work he’s accomplished,” she noted.
Kelly has seen Sharing Meadows develop from a vision deep in Father Blaney's mind to the acquisition of undeveloped farmland to the growth of  a “viable, loving community - a city of God. Throughout it all, his faith has been firm. He always told me that we’re succeeding because we’re doing what God wants us to do, despite having some bumps in the road,” she said.
Bill Harmon, current Sharing Meadows executive director, highlighted Father Blaney’s contributions. “This is an amazing honor for a well-deserved man because he gave his entire priesthood to the people, no matter who it was, the unhoused or homeless. He started soup kitchens across the Diocese of Gary. Wherever there was a need, he found solutions to fill that need. You look at the legacy that he’s leaving Sharing Meadows, the community, the Diocese of Gary, and even the Midwest.
“This is special. When you have your leader and founder and visionary receive this prestigious award and have Jim Pressel and Bishop (Robert J.) McClory here, it’s a special moment,” said Harmon.
Bishop McClory said he was reminded of St. Teresa of Avila, who herself saw so many needs and sought to address them throughout her life. “She’s left us with a prayer to give us insight to the beautiful ministry that occurs at Sharing Meadows, especially for family members, the desire for your loved ones to have a place where you can say, ‘God, you have truly provided beyond my expectations…to ensure my loved one can be a beacon of love and receive that love. Sharing Meadows, as we’ve come to know, is the place where you can say, ‘My prayers have been answered.
“Father Blaney has been a tireless constant, not just an advocate, but one who has developed, along with so many collaborators, a beautiful home, a place of love, comfort, and support. It’s time to thank God for the gift of Father Blaney and the gift of these residents,” said Bishop McClory.
A man of few words, Father Blaney gave credit to those around him over the years, and those in attendance. “God bless them all. I appreciate it. If it wasn’t for their support, we wouldn’t have Sharing Meadows.
“There was a need to make sure the other-abled were able to see that they are valuable, which no one else saw. They have skills and the ability to love unconditionally. I made sure other people could see that they are truly gifts from God,” he said. “Everyone has a calling in their life. Whether big or small, follow them. Actions speak louder than words.”
For more information about Sharing Meadows visit sharefoundation.org.


Caption: Bishop Robert J. McClory visits with Father Dennis Blaney during the Share Foundation’s 33rd annual spring luncheon at Halls of St. George in Schererville. (Bob Wellinski photo)