Memorable moments abound for golden jubilarians Msgr. Beebe, Father Henderson

Golden jubilarians Father Donald Henderson and Msgr. Charles Beebe were honored with a drive-thru parade at St. Jude Church in Peoria on June 6. The celebration included honking horns, waves, smiles, signs and cards of congratulations. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

As they look back on 50 years of ordained ministry, Msgr. Charles J. Beebe and Father Donald J. Henderson count numerous baptisms and weddings, as well as helping people prepare to “go home” to the Lord and then consoling their families as among the most memorable moments they’ve had.

“All of those times were unbelievably wonderful,” said Father Henderson. “That’s one thing about the priesthood that I try to stress with younger people is the closeness you can attain not only to the Lord but to other people, and help them through these experiences to know that Jesus Christ is with them.”

“We are always inspired by the faith and the goodness of God’s people,” Msgr. Beebe said. “To become a servant of the Gospel and being able to share that with people, it’s a specific joy of the priesthood.”

“It’s an amazing life,” Father Henderson said. “It’s such a blessed life.”

That wonderful life began on June 6, 1970, when Msgr. Beebe and Father Henderson were ordained by Bishop John B. Franz at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria. Granted senior status in 2016, they continue to assist with Masses and sacramental ministry as they’re able.

Information on what drew them to the priesthood and their ministry in central Illinois follows.

MSGR. CHARLES J. BEEBE, P.A.

Born in Passaic, New Jersey, Msgr. Beebe is the son of the late Marion and Joseph Beebe. He grew up in Lacon and attended St. Bede Academy and St. Bede Junior College in Peru.

He prepared for the priesthood at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Conception, Missouri, where he studied philosophy and theology.

Msgr. Beebe said his time with the Benedictines was important to his personal and spiritual formation and he became an Oblate of St. Bede Abbey while he was still in high school. The stability and community inherent in that oblation and the Benedictine charism for education and formation played a role in devoting his priestly ministry to education at all levels.

Msgr. Charles Beebe, P.A.

“I sat and read to preschool children in Creve Coeur all the way through ministry formation for the diaconate and everything in between,” he said with a chuckle.

Following ordination Msgr. Beebe served as parochial vicar at St. Bernard in Peoria and then St. Joseph in Pekin. He joined the faculty at Spalding Institute and the Academy of Our Lady in Peoria in 1974, chairing the religion department while he was there. After earning a master’s degree in educational administration from Bradley University he was named administrative assistant.

He remained there until 1988, when Peoria Notre Dame was formed from the merger of AOL/Spalding and Bergan High School.

His next assignment made him pastor and principal at Sacre Coeur in Creve Coeur from 1991 to 1993, when he was assigned to lead St. Jude in Dunlap. The same year he was named episcopal vicar for the permanent diaconate, a ministry he would continue until 2012.

“I see the diaconate as a vital part of the ministry of Holy Orders,” Msgr. Beebe said. “There are things the permanent deacon can do in support of pastoral ministry to aid the pastors, especially as we’ve seen pastoral ministries growing. . . . The deacon can be right there to help them, as a member of the clergy and not just a volunteer.”

He also served as pastor at St. Philomena in Peoria, and St. Joseph in Roanoke and St. John in Benson.

Msgr. Beebe was named a prelate of honor with the title of monsignor in 1993, and a protonotary apostolic, the highest rank of monsignor, in 2011. He said this unexpected honor was one of the most memorable moments of the last 50 years.

“St. Mary’s Cathedral was full and the applause went on and on and on, God love them. It was so kind of them and so kind of the bishop to give me that honor,” he said of Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC.

“We are always inspired by the faith and the goodness of God’s people. To become a servant of the Gospel and being able to share that with people, it’s a specific joy of the priesthood.” — Msgr. Beebe

The transition into retirement has taken some getting used to, but Msgr. Beebe said there are gifts that have come with less activity.

“The one thing retirement has given me is time for solitude, to offer that in prayer for all the people who ask for it,” he said. The priests who have been working so hard to meet the needs of their parishioners during the COVID-19 pandemic are remembered in a special way every day.

In addition, he celebrates Mass for the Sisters of St. Francis of the Immaculate Conception, also known as the Heading Avenue Franciscans, in West Peoria.

“They’ve been a very important part of my life and ministry,” Msgr. Beebe said. “In fact, I’ve known and worked with the Heading Avenue Franciscans all 50 years of my ministry.”

That includes Sister Diane Marie Vande Voorde, OSF, who was his longtime assistant in the Office of the Permanent Diaconate.

When pandemic restrictions have lifted sufficiently, Msgr. Beebe hopes to celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving with the Heading Avenue Franciscans and have a catered meal for them at the convent to celebrate his golden jubilee.

Mail for Msgr. Beebe may be sent to 6500 N. Allen Road, Unit 63, Peoria, IL 61614.

FATHER DONALD HENDERSON

“Every time I think of the ordained priesthood, I think of the incredible gift of God, our Father, to the church and to every priest,” Father Henderson said. “The priest’s relationship to Jesus is so intimate that he models Jesus in his self-giving love.”

He added that St. Jean Marie Vianney, the patron saint of priests, had said, “How great is the priest. The priest will only be understood in heaven. Were he understood on earth, people would die — not of fear, but of love.”

Father Henderson saw that love and faithfulness modeled by his parents, R. Donald and Veronica Henderson, as he was growing up in Peoria.

“They were faith-filled and when I was ordained they told me, ‘You’re in the Lord’s service now. Don’t worry or be concerned about us. You do all that you need to do to serve him and your parishes and we’ll take care of ourselves,’” he recalled.

“Their support and positivity and sometimes honestly telling me where they thought I needed to make a few changes was very instrumental in my priesthood,” he said.

Father Donald Henderson

Father Henderson attended St. Mark School and St. Philomena School and graduated from Spalding Institute, all in Peoria. He studied at Regis College in Denver, Marquette University in Milwaukee, and Bradley University in Peoria before going to Immaculate Conception Seminary in Conception, Missouri.

His first assignment was to St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria. Feeling he could handle more, he talked to Bishop Edward O’Rourke and soon found himself in a classroom teaching religion at the Academy of Our Lady and Spalding Institute.

He acknowledged that it was the one thing he didn’t want to do, but the bishop had made up his mind.

“It turned out it was the Holy Spirit speaking because I loved it from the very beginning,” Father Henderson said. “I would go back to it today and be happy doing it.”

He also ministered as a teacher and chaplain at Schlarman High School in Danville, and was interim principal there for a short time, while assisting at St. Paul Parish. He would return to Peoria Notre Dame High School to teach in 2003.

Among his memorable moments was serving as the chaplain to the sports teams at Schlarman, including two years when the football team won the state championship. The coach, who wasn’t Catholic, insisted Father Henderson be in the locker room before the game, during halftime, and after the game for prayer.

“This really developed among the players a bond wrapped around prayer and I saw how important that became to them,” he said.

Father Henderson’s parish ministry took him to St. Philomena, Peoria; St. Matthew, Champaign; Holy Cross, Champaign; and St. Vincent de Paul, Peoria, as parochial vicar. He has been pastor at St. Paul, Danville; St. Theresa, Earlville; St. Anthony and St. Casimir, Streator; St. Mary, Delavan, and St. Joseph, Hopedale; St. Anthony and Sts. Peter and Paul, Spring Valley; St. Mary, El Paso, and St. Patrick, Minonk; St. Philomena, Peoria; St. Mary, Princeville; and the Heart of Peoria Catholic Community, including St. Mary’s Cathedral, Sacred Heart and St. Bernard.

He acknowledged that changing assignments as often as he was called to do was not easy.

“It was always difficult for me to leave a parish, to leave the people, and I would just be shattered at having to leave and move on,” he told The Post. “I just had to pray to the Holy Spirit for the grace to do that and be open to the new assignments.”

“It was always difficult for me to leave a parish, to leave the people, and I would just be shattered at having to leave and move on. I just had to pray to the Holy Spirit for the grace to do that and be open to the new assignments.” — Father Henderson

The Holy Spirit always came through for him and his parishioners, and as a result real growth took place in the parish, he said.

Father Henderson counts Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen, with whom he interacted briefly on three occasions, as a major influence in his priesthood. He said he was impressed with the sainthood candidate’s humility and gentleness in the way he approached people.

“To see him at prayer — as a young priest was very inspiring,” Father Henderson said. “You knew this man was really in contact with the Lord.”

He mentioned his brother priests as another source of inspiration.

“Their dedication to service, their prayerful minds, all of those spurred me on to continue my growth,” he said.

Until the COVID-19 pandemic, Father Henderson assisted with Masses and confessions, primarily at St. Jude and St. Philomena in Peoria, and hopes to return to that once the restrictions are lifted.

Until that can happen, Father Henderson has put plans for a celebration on hold. In the meantime, mail may be sent to him at 1011 W. Bellehaven Lane, Peoria, IL 61614.

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