Father James Henry SVD, a teacher in Los Angeles and missionary in Papua New Guinea, passed away at Techny on July 3 at age 90.
In 1945, James Henry entered Divine Word Seminary in Girard, Penn. He attended major seminary at the historic St. Augustine Seminary in Bay St. Louis, Miss.; professed vows in 1951 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1959.
During the first ten years of his priesthood, Father Henry taught high school students in Southern California—first at Divine Word Seminary in Riverside and then as a member of the inaugural staff of Verbum Dei High School in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles.
In 1972, after completing a master’s degree in English from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, his superiors assigned him to Papua New Guinea, where he served the missions for 12 years. Upon returning to California in 1984, he served as a chaplain for the U.S. Navy and taught English and religion at St. Joseph High School in Lakewood, Calif.
Father Michael Hutchins SVD, who served as rector of the Techny Community for three years, marveled at Father Henry’s ability to deliver inspirational homilies.
“He was well-read and knowledgeable and could tell a story so well,” Father Hutchins said. “He made use of his higher education in English. He used descriptive and vivid language. At the end of some of his homilies, he would quote at length the stanzas of a poem.”
Perhaps that dexterity with language also captivated Father Henry’s former students. Father Hutchins recalled a time when some of them visited the retired priest.
“He was loved by the students at St. Joseph,” Father Hutchins said. “The sentiment was mutual. He lit up with joy when they came to see him.”
Born in New York City in 1931, James Henry was the third of Martin and Catherine (nee Loftus) Henry’s eight children. The Henry siblings grew up in South Bronx and were taught to serve others.
Father Henry once wrote, “Ours is a typical Irish immigrant family. Martin is a New York Fire Department captain. John is a New York Police Department lieutenant. Mike is a foreign tax manager....” And their brother Thomas worked as an electrical engineer.
In addition to a master’s degree in English, Father Henry also earned a master’s degree in ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) from Columbia University in New York City.
In 2013, Father Henry retired and was assigned to the Bordentown Community of the Chicago Province. Two years later, he moved to the Techny Community for health reasons.
Father Henry was preceded in death by his parents, five siblings (Mary Higgins and John, Thomas, Helen and Patrick Henry) and nephews Kevin and Michael G. Henry. He is survived by his brothers Martin and Michael Henry and 25 nieces and nephews.
Father Henry’s wake will be July 11 at 9 a.m., followed by a funeral Mass at 10:30 a.m. at the chapel in Divine Word Residence at Techny. He will be buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Techny. His wake and funeral will be livestreamed at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=KvrhsvHKXw0
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations in the name of Father Henry can be made for the care of elderly and infirmed missionaries and may be sent to The Rector, Divine Word Residence, 1901 Waukegan Road, P.O. Box 6000, Techny, IL 60082-6000.