Equipped for Lifelong Mission

From Student Leader to Parish Leader

Like the scattered seeds Fr. Lampitt reflects upon in his letter, as each class of Catholic Illini graduate and leave campus, our prayer for  new alumni is that the experiences they had as students would equip them to find good soil and bear great fruit, wherever life takes them.


Danny Dirienzo is one young alumnus who has invested in finding and fostering the prayer, service, and Christian friendship he found here as a student in his new parish homes.


Danny (Class of 2021), a native of Lisle, IL, began his time at the University of Illinois on Newman Hall’s north side. Majoring in Industrial Engineering, he not only grew intellectually but also found tremendous growth in spiritual life during his four years at the U of I.


Early involvement in several ministries at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center set Danny on a trajectory toward greater maturity in his spiritual life. Starting freshman year, he was heavily involved in service through the Knights of Columbus chapter at St. John’s. Serving as both Deputy Grand Knight and Grand Knight, Danny led other men in service and Christian brotherhood both at the U of I and through the National Knights of Columbus Organization.


At the start of his sophomore year his friend David McCormack, now a FOCUS missionary, invited him into small group bible study, in which Danny participated for three years with the same group of men. That small group proved to be a pivotal experience in Danny’s faith life in college. “Having that group of guys, with whom we built trust and relationships over three years, we could really confide in each other.”


As a senior, Danny served as a sacristan, an experience to which he attributes his bold post-graduation practice of the faith. “I would credit [being a sacristan] as the most formational to me in terms of my faith. Being that close to the liturgy…and understanding what goes into preparing for it, seeing how the priests prepare…I loved my time as a sacristan, I wish I had done it all four years.”


Danny also credits the witness of students who emphasized prayer and frequent reception of the sacraments as a catalyst for strengthening his own faith. It was at St. John’s that Danny saw that confession could be more than just a compulsory sacrament received at Catholic School twice a year. “I remember seeing the line [for confession] wrapped down the chapel staircase, and I couldn’t believe how many people were doing it. That got me into the regular practice of going to confession.” The opportunities to spend time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament were also important for Danny’s growth in his relationship with God. “Having that 24/7 access to the chapel…I was definitely a night owl in college, I would go down at 1:00 or 2:00 AM and just sit in the chapel…that was super important to me.”


As Danny researched potential parish homes when he moved to San Diego for a job with Caterpillar after graduation, access to similar sacramental opportunities was crucial. “I actually picked an apartment in proximity to a parish that I had scoped out to join because of the ministries they had available.” By attending adoration weekly, Danny was introduced to parishioners who invited him to get involved in ministries like That Man Is You small group, a retirement home ministry, and lectoring at Mass. They also helped him transfer into the Knight of Columbus council where he served as the Deputy Grand Knight for a year.


“I kept diving in deeper, and I kept being fulfilled more. It was easy to lean into it.” Through these ministries, Danny made such deep connections with the other parishioners that they threw him a going-away potluck when his job brought him back to Illinois. “There were 40 people who I had met through the various ministries who showed up…I really felt like I had formed a family there.”



At the end of his time in San Diego, Danny proposed to his now-wife Paisley. The couple had met during Newman Hall Welcome Week during an unfortunate dodgeball incident. This first encounter didn’t prevent the two from becoming friends. After three years of friendship, Danny and Paisley began dating in the fall of their senior year. By their senior spring, the two led a Catholic Illini Small Group together, bringing their friends and acquaintances together for discussion of Scripture and fellowship. After graduation, Danny and Paisley dated long distance as their work took them to opposite coasts, until their marriage in August of 2023.


The Dirienzos claimed a spot in St. John’s history when they were the first couple to get married in the newly renovated chapel. “Father said that our date was the earliest they could schedule, with the caveat that there very well might be things that aren’t finished yet…” Father Lampitt’s guess was correct: “When we showed up for the rehearsal the day before the wedding they were still rolling out the carpet (laughs)...but it all worked out.”


As the Dirienzos have settled into their new parish in northern Virginia, they’ve already been tapped by the pastor to use their gifts to serve others. “Paisley and I helped run a middle school bible study during Lent, as well as helping out at BASH, an event night for 1,400 middle schoolers from the diocese.” Danny said that they’ve been blessed with a vibrant Catholic young adult community in their new city and that there are events throughout the week to connect with other 20-somethings who are striving to live their faith after college.


Across two coasts and in multiple parish communities, Danny has borne great fruit thanks to the most important thing he took away from his time as a Catholic Illini.


“I really formed a personal relationship with Jesus at St. John’s… [The availability of] confession every day, adoration every day, daily Mass at convenient times multiple times a day…I do miss that now, but I recognize how formative that was for building that relationship with Christ.”