Exemplary priest departs earthly life on Palm Sunday

Heffner,_Father_George_for_webFather George Heffner, 1926-2016

Divine Word Father George Heffner, 89, who devoted his life to the African-American apostolate, died on the morning of March 29 at Techny.

"It’s fitting that George set off on the next stage of his journey towards the new heaven and new earth of God’s Reign on Palm Sunday. He was a great pastor who knew how to lead the way," said Very Rev. Thomas Ascheman, provincial superior of the Chicago Province. "A quiet and keen listener, he devoted the last years of his life to prayer and listening to his fellow man. He had a joyful presence that everyone wanted to be around. The best part of George’s legacy is the humble way that he touched people’s lives."

Year-round, Father Heffner received holiday cards and wedding announcements from former parishioners who benefited from his pastoral care during his four decades as a pastor in African-American parishes in Mississippi and Louisiana.

Even though he was born and raised in northern Ohio, staff at Divine Word Residence at Techny described him as a Southern gentleman who emanated class, loved sweet potato pie, typed correspondence on an old-fashioned typewriter, and kept a precise schedule until the day before he died.

He was so punctual that we could set our clocks by him, noted some members of the Techny community. Every morning when he entered the dining room for breakfast, he’d set his Bible in the same place. After breakfast, he’d pick up his Bible and return to his room to pray, listen to classical music on WFMT, or boot up the computer to follow the pope.

Born in Ottawa, Ohio, in 1926, George Heffner was the third of Earl and Agnes (nee Wangler) Heffner’s five children. A graduate of Findlay Senior High School, the young man worked as a stock clerk and railway freight typist before joining the Society of the Divine Word in 1944.

For two years, he studied in Epworth, Iowa, and spent another six years at St. Augustine Seminary in Bay St. Louis, Miss., to complete his seminary schooling. Father Heffner professed vows at Techny in 1949 and was ordained to the priesthood in Bay St. Louis in 1957.

For his first assignment, he taught at Divine Word Seminary in Riverside, Calif., but his ultimate calling was as a parish priest. He served several years as an assistant pastor at St. Leo in Los Angeles; Notre Dame in St. Martinville, La.; and St. Augustine in New Orleans. In 1967, he was named pastor of St. Rose de Lima in Bay St. Louis, Miss.

His pastoral care extended beyond the parish and into the community. When Father Heffner was assigned to a new parish in 1973, the Bay St. Louis community organized a farewell party that included the mayor and assistant police chief. Before retiring in 2006, Father Heffner also served St. John the Evangelist in Melville, La.; St. Thomas in Pointe-a-la-Hache, La.; and St. Lawrence in Mowata, La.

During his career, he was elected to the Priest Senate of the Diocese of Jackson and to the Provincial Council of the Society of the Divine Word’s U.S. Southern Province.

In retirement, he lived at St. Augustine until moving to Techny in 2012. He is survived by his sister Barbara Eishen.

A visitation and wake were held for him at the Divine Word Residence at Techny on April 6. His funeral Mass will take place on April 7 at 10:30 a.m. in the chapel of the Divine Word Residence, followed by burial at St. Mary Cemetery at Techny.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations for in the name of Father Heffner can be made for the care of retired missionaries and may be sent to The Rector, Divine Word Residence, 1901 Waukegan Road, P.O. Box 6000, Techny, IL 60082-6000.

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