Remembering Jesuit Father Herbert J. Cleary

May 2, 2016 - Herbert J. Cleary was born on Feb. 18, 1931, in Melrose, Mass., a northern suburb of Boston, and grew up in the nearby town of Winchester, a leafy suburb socially divided between old-money Protestant Yankees and upwardly mobile Irish and Italian Catholics. A younger brother, Richard, was born a year later. Richard would subsequently join the Society and become provincial of the New England Province from 1974-1979; he passed away on Oct. 7, 2009. His parents, Herbert and Teresa (Moore) Cleary, both worked at a variety of jobs in the depression years and afterwards. Herb attended parish grade school and Winchester’s public high school. Admittedly not a highly motivated student, Herb got mediocre grades and upon graduation, in 1948, attended Bentley School of Accounting for two years. He secured a junior position in a Boston accounting firm and worked there until, in 1951, with the Korean War escalating and the prospect of being drafted, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy.

Four years in the Navy proved to have a significant impact on Herb’s life. He loved life at sea and the wider view of the world his travels provided, he made many close friends some of whom became lifelong correspondents, he found professional success as an accountant and won promotions and commendations for his work. He considered making the Navy his life.

But other thoughts were tugging at his heart. His idolized younger brother, Dick had entered the Jesuits and was finishing the novitiate. Visiting him and reflecting on his own strongly Catholic family life, Herb found himself attracted to the priesthood. In 1955 he left the Navy and enrolled in St. Philip Neri School in Boston, which had been started in the aftermath of World War II by New England Jesuits to enable late vocations, many of them military veterans like Herb, to acquire the academic credentials—especially in Latin—that seminaries required. A year later, after applying to both the ardiocesan seminary in Boston and the Society, he entered the New York Province novitiate at Plattsburg, N.Y., in August 1956 (a fire had destroyed the New England novitiate at Shadowbrook the previous spring).

He took first vows in 1958 and, three months into his juniorate, moved with his New England classmates to the new Shadowbrook, a transition he and many of his contemporaries were less than enthusiastic about since they had liked the Plattsburg community and its laidback style a lot. He moved to Weston for philosophy studies (1960-1963), where he struggled a bit academically, especially with classes and oral exams conducted in Latin. For regency he was assigned to Cheverus High School in Portland, Maine, where he taught several subjects and especially enjoyed teaching the boys in a non-college general course, some of whom he kept touch with for years after they graduated. After two years he returned to Weston for theology studies. His mother had been diagnosed with cancer and he was ordained ahead of his classmates, in his home parish, in May 1968; she died on the day after his first public Mass.  A year later, his father remarried and Herb acquired a large and welcome step-family.

After ordination Herb returned to Cheverus to teach English and assist in counseling students. Over the following year he completed the application process of returning to the Navy as a chaplain, but the training process didn’t provide the pastoral opportunities he expected and he returned to Cheverus, where he worked for two years as a student counselor, earning a master’s in that field at the University of Maine. In 1973-1974 he did tertianship at Eastern Point in Gloucester, Mass.

He then spent three years in parish ministry in the diocese of Portland, trying out the idea of incardinating in that diocese. Ultimately, he and the bishop decided that he was a Jesuit at heart and he abandoned the idea. He worked for four years (1977-1981) as a school chaplain (at Canterbury School in Connecticut and St. Mary of the Woods College in Indiana). Then he moved into hospital chaplaincy, first for a year at Mass General in Boston, and then for eight years at Bethany Hospital in Framingham, Mass., interrupted by a sabbatical in Australia at the provincial’s urging and a renewal program in England. When he returned to the U.S., he undertook two more chaplaincy assignments in Catholic hospitals, in South Carolina and Manchester, N.H.

In 1994 he became a chaplain at Marian Manor, a Catholic nursing home in South Boston. There he settled into a congenial routine and ministered happily for the next 17 years, supported by the resources he found at the Institute for the Living.

In 2011, health issues led to his being assigned to Campion Center, in Weston, Mass. Herb continued to serve as chaplain for a group of Massachusetts Korean War veterans and kept up his relationships with Navy friends, attending reunions of shipmates and writing about the experiences they shared in their years together. In recent months he weakened noticeably and died quietly in the early morning of April 30, 2016.


Tues., May 3, 2016  
3:00-5:00 p.m. (Prayer Service at 4:30 p.m.) 
Campion Center
319 Concord Road 
Weston, Mass.
Wed., May 4, 2016  
10:00 a.m.                 
Campion Center
Campion Center Cemetery

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