Respected Society of the Divine Word spokesman passes away

Father John McHenry, 1929-2011

McHenry,_Fr_John_for_webFather John McHenry SVD, longtime director of the Divine Word News Service, died at Techny on Friday, Nov. 11 at the age of 82.

Father McHenry served as the North American spokesman for the Society of the Divine Word during a series of sea changes that included social unrest during the 1960s; the closing of St. Mary Seminary at Techny and the founding of Catholic Theological Union; the opening of World Alive, an interactive exhibit; the infancy of the Techny Land Committee; and the development of the religious order’s Cross-cultural Training Program, the mission experience required of all Divine Word Missionaries in training.

He also distinguished himself in the early 1970s as a vocal supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and as an executive committee member of Men for the ERA. Other members of the committee included Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, famed Chicago Sun-Times columnist Irv Kupcinet, Senator Charles Percy, Senator Adlai Stevenson and then-U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois James Thompson.

In 1973, Father McHenry was the only clergyman in a group of 30 people who appeared before the executive committee of the Illinois House to voice their support of the amendment.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, he was the second of Francis and Mary (nee Carroll) McHenry’s two children. The young McHenry professed vows with the Society of the Divine Word in 1948 and was ordained to the priesthood at Techny in 1955.

As a young priest, he assisted Chinese Cardinal Thomas Tien SVD with English and prepared to go to China. Cardinal Tien, the first Catholic cardinal not of European descent, was living at Techny at the time and planned to return to his homeland. However, plans changed for both men when Communist Chairman Mao Tse-tung closed the country to religious missionaries.

Instead, Father McHenry stayed in the United States and served as an administrator and teacher at Divine Word seminaries in East Troy, Wis., and Perrysburg, Ohio. In 1964, he returned to Techny as editor-in-chief and publisher of Divine Word Publications and director of the Divine Word News Service, a position he held until 1983.

"John fully understood the use of communication to unite people and spread the Good News," said Father Edward Peklo SVD, a student of Father McHenry and now rector of the Society of the Divine Word’s residence in East Troy, Wis. "To the Divine Word Missionaries who studied in North America and served on other continents, John provided one of our strongest connections to home. He founded WORD/usa, a newsletter for and about Divine Word Missionaries who had a bond with North America.

"His devotion to regular communication went above and beyond what was expected. Twice a year, he sent each of us a note—one to wish us a happy birthday and the other to congratulate us on our anniversary of vows," Father Peklo said. "Even in the most remote missions, we knew that we were not alone."

In addition to Father McHenry’s work in communications, he assisted the priests of St. Francis de Sales in Lake Zurich, Ill. For 13 years, he celebrated weekend Masses, taught high school religious education classes, and served on the Liturgy Board and the Adult Education Committee.

In 1983, Father McHenry joined the staff and board of directors of Wordnet Productions, a California-based television production company founded by the Society of the Divine Word. He also accepted invitations from both the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., and Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles to design, promote and teach religious education programs for adults.

Along with Father McHenry’s ministerial work, he served as public relations chairman for the West Cook County region of the American Red Cross, an advisory board member of the North Suburban YMCA and a board member of the National Catholic Development Conference.

Father McHenry was preceded in death by his parents and his sister Frances McHenry. Visitation for Father McHenry was held at the Chapel of the Holy Spirit on Wednesday, Nov. 16, followed by a wake service. His funeral Mass took place at the chapel on Thursday with burial at St. Mary Cemetery at Techny.

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

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