All aspects of high school life are chaplain’s mission field
By: By Jennifer Willems
Students at Catholic high schools in the Diocese of Peoria have access to a resource that students in many other dioceses don’t: chaplains.
“We have the luxury of having guys in there full time. That says something about our diocese,” said Father Patrick Henehan, who for 10 years was the chaplain and teacher at Marquette High School in Ottawa and Central Catholic High School in Bloomington.
“Most other dioceses don’t have the ability to have a priest designated for the high school and yet every one of our high schools has a priest that is designated for that school,” he said. “The bishop has made a commitment to that, knowing how important the priest presence is and knowing how important Catholic education is.”
To offer his support to these priests, Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, has established a Council for High School Chaplains and named Father Henehan its director. The appointment was effective on June 16.
At the same time, Father Henehan was named pastor of St. Jude’s Parish in Peoria.
He said his primary role is to be a mentor, especially to the new chaplains, and to coordinate and provide insights and resources for all of them. In addition to offering his own ideas, Father Henehan said he is looking forward to hearing their ideas at meetings that will be held throughout the year.
While most people think of chaplains as celebrating Mass or coordinating prayer services for special occasions, Father Henehan explained that they are involved in every aspect of the school.
“When I was a chaplain, I was a full-time teacher. That gives you more of a connection with the students,” he said. “The more connected you are to the student the better you’re going to be. That means you’re going to many of the games, you’re going to many of the education commission meetings, you’re going to many of the dances — you’re connected to their lives.”
That personal connection is vital in high school and beyond because that’s the best way to lead people to discipleship, Father Henehan said, noting that this is how Jesus brought people to faith and his Father.
While students need that connection, Father Henehan found that during his years as a chaplain and teacher they didn’t always realize it or even want to be sitting in his classroom.
“We don’t have to mission to China, like 500 years ago, to evangelize. All we have to do is go into our classrooms. There are people there who need to be evangelized,” he said.
“You have souls before you that you have an opportunity to convert that nobody else might get to talk to,” he told The Catholic Post. “That’s where I think the high school chaplain has such a great job. It’s hard, but it can be tremendously rewarding as well.”
And if someone doesn’t touch those “souls that might not be in love with Christ” when they’re in high school, Father Henehan said, it’s possible that the Newman Centers won’t see them when they go on to college.
Father Henehan said that students will have more and better opportunities to grow in their faith as the high school chaplains share ideas and combine their resources.
“For example, when you bring a national speaker in to a high school, that’s going to cost you,” he said. “But if you can bring that national speaker in and share that among seven high schools it makes it cheaper and more effective.”
One of the chaplains’ successes is working together to take students to Washington, D.C., for the March for Life in January.
“We want to see a unified body of Catholic high school students rather than individual high schools. When the bishop goes out on the march, he likes it when all the Catholic high school students are together,” Father Henehan said.
“I think that’s the direction he wants us to go — what can we share, how can we help each other, and what can we learn from each other? My job is as much coordinator as it is any sort of director,” he explained.
Having designated, committed chaplains at Catholic high schools around the diocese is also good for the parents and the community, according to Father Henehan.
“When people are sacrificing for Catholic schools they need to know that this is one of the great reasons why they should,” he said.
While Father Henehan enjoys his work at pastor of St. Jude’s Parish and School, he admits to some sadness at leaving the classroom and chaplaincy. He is grateful to Bishop Jenky for allowing him to work with the Council of High School Chaplains.
“It keeps me connected to high school and that’s exciting for me,” he said. “Once you have that experience, your heart is still there. I’m happy that I got to do this.”