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Triple celebration at St. Henry's

Parish with unique history puts on new 'face' at 45

POMPANO BEACH | Just before Christmas, parishioners at St. Henry Church celebrated three significant milestones in the history of their parish: the 45th anniversary of its founding, the 40th anniversary of the dedication of the parish church, and the newly completed expansion that has given a "new face" to the church building.

Hundreds joined Archbishop Thomas Wenski at the Mass and blessing Dec. 20.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski blesses with Holy water the new entrance and church expansion to St. Henry Catholic Church in Pompano Beach.

Photographer: Jonathan Martinez | JM

Archbishop Thomas Wenski blesses with Holy water the new entrance and church expansion to St. Henry Catholic Church in Pompano Beach.

"I congratulate your pastor, Father Francis, and all of you, for bringing to a successful conclusion this work of renovation here at St. Henry’s," said the archbishop during the homily. "This is more than just a little face lift this involved some major reconstruction, and the results speak for themselves."

St. Henry's modest beginnings resemble those of other parishes in the archdiocese but its history sets it apart.

On May 16, 1969, with the permission of then Archbishop Coleman Carroll, the parish was founded on six acres of land. In June of the same year, newly appointed pastor, Father Brendan Grogan, arrived and began looking for a place to worship. As word spread that a new parish was starting, people began attending Mass at a nearby warehouse and eventually a high school.

The parish's unique history begins with Masses being held for a time at the Pompano racetrack. This led to Mass times fluctuating in order to accommodate the races. Father Grogan knew this arrangement couldn't last too long.

A building fund campaign in 1972 led to the construction of St. Henry's Church, which was completed in 1974 and dedicated by Archbishop Carroll on Dec. 14, 1974. This in turn led to a decade of growth in the parish community.

In the summer of 1980, parishioners said goodbye to their founding pastor, Father Grogan, and welcomed their second pastor, Father James Reynolds.

Father (now Msgr.) Reynolds saw the immediate need for a parish hall and began the necessary steps to make it happen. Within three years, the hall was completed and blessed by Archbishop Edward A. McCarthy.

A donation by a former restaurateur led to another unique moment in the history of the parish: the start of "Henry's Hideaway". With the donated bar installed in a room in the rear of the parish hall, Henry's Hideaway operates as a private club, licensed by the state to serve liquor to members. During the tourist season, when attendance at St. Henry's swells with "snow birds", its Hideaway hosts weekly dinner shows with a full slate of musical and comedic performers.

Father Francis A. Akwue, pastor at St. Henry Catholic Church in Pompano Beach, exits the church in procession after a Mass celebrating 45 years since the establishment of the parish and 40 years since the building of the current church.

Photographer: Jonathan Martinez | JM

Father Francis A. Akwue, pastor at St. Henry Catholic Church in Pompano Beach, exits the church in procession after a Mass celebrating 45 years since the establishment of the parish and 40 years since the building of the current church.

Since 2005, when Msgr. Reynolds retired, the parish has been led by Father Francis Akwue. He has successfully overseen the completion of renovations that included adding a front facade to the church's main entrance on Andrews Avenue and McNab Road. The construction was completed in just 11 months - after four years of fundraising.

"These improvements solved a few key problems aside from just the curbside appeal," said David Prada, senior director of the Building and Property Office of the archdiocese. "The first is giving the parish a covered drop off, second was adding cry rooms for families with young children.

"Of course, all of this gives the idea, nice idea, of expanding the church without adding much square footage and gives it a presence it never had, useful spaces to gather, a sacristy, new roof and confessionals," added Prada.

"This was a special project to be involved with because I'm a parishioner here," said Brian Herbert, project architect for the firm Gallo Herbert Architects. "My parents were founding members of the parish. In fact, I remember being an altar boy at the original groundbreaking of the church. It feels nice to have been part of this, to design and build it."

During the construction phase of the remodeling project, longtime parishioners, founders and others left their mark in the structure by signing their names on stones that were cast into the new foundation. This significant detail serves as a symbolic gesture that the work of the people is what led to the growth of the church; all for glory of the Lord.

"I am so happy, so very, very, happy" said Father Akwue. "This has been in our minds for such a long time. We've been dreaming and planning this for so long that even some that donated money towards it didn't live to see the project fulfilled."

"My hope for the future of the parish is to see more families, especially with children, become more involved even if that means coming here from other areas," Father Akwue said. "Those families will shape the future of the parish."

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