Jesuit Father John F. Henry died on Oct. 12, 2014. He was born in Weehawken, New Jersey, on Oct. 1, 1923, the fifth of six children of William and Anna Marie Weiss. All attended St. Michael’s High School in Union City, where Jesuit Father Vincent O’Keefe, former acting superior general of the Jesuits, was also a student. The boys were altar boys, and all six children became teachers.
After working for a year at the Chase Bank on Wall St. and two years at St. Peter’s College, Fr. Henry entered the Jesuits at Wernersville on Feb., 1, 1943, while his three brothers were serving in the Armed Forces during World War II. After philosophy at Weston, with a master’s in philosophy, his regency was spent teaching at Loyola Blakefield High School with 13 other scholastics. Theology was at Woodstock, Maryland, with priesthood ordination on June 19, 1955. Fr. Henry’s first assignment after tertianship at Auriesville, New York, was Prefect of Discipline at St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia. This experience of two years was preparation for his next assignment, a “one way ticket” to Osorno, Chile, to found Colegio San Mateo with five others: Frank Nugent, Henry Haske, and scholastics Jim McNamara, Joe O’Neill and Barry Boyle. Today, they are still fondly remembered by Sanmateans as “The First Fathers”.
Fr. Henry had never volunteered for the missions to India and Burma, as some of his classmates, but now he was ready. The group were sent to Georgetown for Spanish preparation. After a month of learning a few words in Spanish, Fr. Henry was named superior and was sent to Chile with Fr. John Lenny in September of 1959 to prepare the way for the new mission. The old “Jesuit” magazine published by the Mission Office tells the story in pictures of two of the major exciting events in Osorno history: the strongest recorded earthquake (Richter scale-9.5) on May 22, 1960; and secondly, the inauguration of the new school building on April 25, 1965.
In 1968, Fr. Henry studied social doctrine of the church at Ilades in Santiago and from 1970 to 1972 was director of pastoral and social work at Colegio San Ignacio in Santiago. That led Fr. Henry to ask for a sabbatical at Woodstock in New York. But instead of returning to Chile, Fr. Henry was appointed pastor of St. Ignatius Church in Baltimore.
Fr. Henry returned to Chile in 1978 with varied and interesting works: professor of ethics at the University of the North in Arica and director of the Jesuit Spiritual Center. He also had time for retreats and Bible formation and writing a weekly column for the local newspaper. He was chaplain of two chapels and of the Hogar de Cristo Social Center, where he guided the U.S. Jesuit Volunteers for 8 years.
After celebrating the 50th anniversary of Colegio San Mateo with four Jesuits and 64 lay professors, Fr. Henry returned in October 2009 to Calvert St. and gave retreats and Bible formation to Spanish speaking communities. Three years later, a heart illness forced him to retire to part-time retreat work for Spanish speakers at the Jesuit Center in Wernersville, Pennsylvania. His Mexican friends call him “Padre Chileno,” a name he enjoyed. Fr. Henry whole-heartedly ministered in Wernersville until his death on Oct. 12, 2014.