By Cathy Harasta
The Texas Catholic
ENNIS, Texas—Just a faint hint of daybreak greeted Nicholas Tyler “Nick” Dennie as he stepped out onto his driveway and hoisted his backpack into the family car.
It dawned on him, he said, that this May morning marked one of the last trips of its kind for the Bishop Dunne Catholic School senior.
For Nick, leaving home—the last house on a scenic gravel road in southwest Ennis’ countryside—has meant embarking on an 84-mile round-trip commute each school day for the past five years.
But Nick’s long road to graduation was worth every pre-dawn wake-up call and every hour of commuting time, he said.
“Bishop Dunne has been a dream come true,” he said. “I wanted a Catholic education. Bishop Dunne really does feel like a family, where your classmates and teachers are all your friends.”
Going more than the extra mile for a Catholic education also gave Nick and his parents quality time to chat during the commute together, said Nick’s mother, Sandra Nekuza Dennie, an administrative assistant at Bishop Dunne who has traveled with her son to school each day.
“Time in the car together has been a blessing,” said Sandra, an Ennis native. “Nick is first and foremost in our lives, and we wanted him to have the best Catholic education possible. That was so important to us. We’ve had a wonderful five years together. It’s flown by. It’s awesome to see it come to an end with graduation. We have a new beginning.”
A sad chapter preceded Nick’s Bishop Dunne experience as the family contemplated the best plan for his Catholic education.
Sandra had graduated from St. John Catholic School in Ennis, a town of about 19,000, as had her parents. The pre-K-through-12th-grade school was the only school Nick attended until 2008, when St. John Catholic School closed after struggling for years to make ends meet as enrollment declined. Nick had just finished the seventh grade. No one in the Dennie household expected Nick to become anything other than a third-generation St. John graduate.
Nick and his parents set aside their disappointment to map out his academic destination.
“We had a choice, and Bishop Dunne is the choice we made,” said Nick’s father, Joel Dennie. “It was an easy decision.”
Joel often carpooled with his wife and son. Joel would leave Nick and Sandra at Bishop Dunne, continue to his job directing a spice and flavoring company in Carrollton, and pick up Nick and Sandra after school for the return trip to Ennis.
Nick said that he had become familiar with Bishop Dunne, located in Oak Cliff, during his participation in a summer session of the DeBusk Enrichment Center for Academically Talented Students (DECATS).
“Bishop Dunne’s bigger atmosphere and its high level of technology were the main differences from St. John,” said Nick, who will attend Texas A&M University this fall. “When I got to Bishop Dunne, I found that the advanced pace of pre-AP and AP courses felt comfortable. And one of the things I liked best was the diversity.”
Sandra said that Nick adjusted rapidly to his new school, which hired her soon after he started at Dunne.
Nick did not abandon his rural roots when he headed north to school in a more urban setting. Instead, he shared his knowledge of hunting, fishing and livestock with his new friends, his teachers at Bishop Dunne said.
“Nick was going to school in the city and living in the country,” Sandra said. “He’s had the best of both worlds.”
His faith remained his top priority, Nick said.
He stayed active in the youth group at St. John Nepomucene Catholic Church in Ennis, where he has been an altar server since fifth grade. He also attends Catholic student leadership camps each summer.
His weekdays often included after-school activities. Nick served as the tennis team’s captain, helped establish an archery program and held student council offices. His school days often didn’t end until 11 p.m. on evenings when he worked as a cashier at an Ennis grocery store.
Contrary to dozing off in class, Nick impressed his teachers as exceptionally alert, inventive and eager to participate spiritually, mentally and physically.
“He goes full-force,” Bishop Dunne biology, anatomy and physiology teacher Katy Bove said. “He’s humble, witty and genuine. He can make everything fun. His daily commute didn’t interfere with his energy.”
Mark Clifford, who teaches history and government at Bishop Dunne, said that Nick’s maturity set him apart.
“He was my go-to guy,” Clifford said. “He understands what he has to get done.”
Clifford said that he expects Nick to go the distance in the endeavors that come next for him.
“He’s never complained about getting up early or the long drive,” Sandra said. “It’s been a journey of love.”