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Msgr. William Hennessey, 84

Founding pastor of St. Mark, former vicar general, and principal at Msgr. Pace High

FORT LAUDERDALE | Archbishop John C. Favalora thought it odd when he got a call in May from Msgr. William Hennessey.

Msgr. William J. Hennessey: born Sept. 14, 1935; ordained Dec. 20, 1961; died June 27, 2020.

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Msgr. William J. Hennessey: born Sept. 14, 1935; ordained Dec. 20, 1961; died June 27, 2020.

Though the two had been friends since 1958, when they met as seminarians studying at the North American College in Rome, Msgr. Hennessey was not a "chatter," Archbishop Favalora said. "When I got a phone call from him, I knew there was a problem. He never called to say how was your vacation. That was not Bill Hennessey."

It was odder still when Msgr. Hennessey asked if the two of them could get together for lunch or dinner. Miami-Dade and Broward counties were still on lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a resident of St. Joseph Residence in Fort Lauderdale, an assisted living facility run by Catholic Health Services, Msgr. Hennessey was even more locked down.

"He had the whole thing planned," Archbishop Favalora recalled. He would say he was going to visit his doctor then slip down to Miami to visit his friend.

"Finally, I said, Bill, I don't think that's going to happen," Archbishop Favalora remembers telling him. "I know. You're right," Msgr. Hennessey replied. "I just was concerned that I might not get to see you again."

"That was the most intimate thing he said in the 62 years we had been friends," Archbishop Favalora recalled. "He was calling because he knew he was getting worse."

In fact, Msgr. Hennessey had been hospitalized earlier this year for circulation problems in his legs. He was legally blind. He had terrible arthritis in his hands. He underwent surgery last week for a blockage in his abdominal aorta and seemed to be recovering, but suffered a heart attack while still in the hospital and died later that day, June 27, 2020.  

He was 84 and had been a priest for 58 years, all of them for the Archdiocese of Miami.

The viewing will take place Wednesday, July 1, from 10 to 10:50 a.m. at St. Mary Cathedral in Miami, followed by the funeral Mass at 11 a.m. and burial afterward at Our Lady of Mercy in Doral.

"He was really suffering in many ways," Archbishop Favalora said. "God bless him, he's in the hands of the Lord now. None of that matters."

In addition to being founding pastor of St. Mark in Southwest Ranches and serving several times as principal at Msgr. Edward Pace High School in Miami Gardens (1965-69, 1971-74, 1978-85 and 1991-96), Msgr. Hennessey served 15 years (1995-2010) as archdiocesan vicar general and moderator of the curia. His seminary classmate — and longtime bridge partner — tapped him for that job when he became Miami's archbishop.

Despite their years of friendship, Archbishop Favalora told the Florida Catholic that Msgr. Hennessey was an extremely private person. "He would do anything for you," but "there was a part of (him) I never knew."

The archbishop described his friend as "a company man" who loved the Church, was very kind to people and always very proper — never using colloquialisms when speaking, never calling him anything other than archbishop if anyone else was in the room. "He saw himself as a churchman."

Born Sept. 14, 1935 in Cranford, New Jersey, Msgr. Hennessey grew up in West Palm Beach, where his family had moved when he was eight months old. He attended St. Ann School there and graduated from Palm Beach High School, after which he entered the seminary.

When he was sent to finish his studies at the North American College in Rome in 1958, he was studying for the Diocese of St. Augustine, which at that time covered the whole state of Florida. Within a month of being there, however, the Diocese of Miami was established and Msgr. Hennessey, as a resident of one of its counties, automatically became one of its seminarians.

Both he and Archbishop Favalora, who was studying for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, were ordained at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter's Basilica on Dec. 20, 1961.

Msgr. Hennessey went on to serve in many archdiocesan positions, including as parochial vicar at St. Patrick in Miami Beach, Little Flower in Hollywood, Immaculate Conception in Hialeah, and St. Monica in Miami Gardens, all in the 1960s. In the 1970s, he served as parochial vicar at St. Mary Magdalen in Sunny Isles Beach, St. Brendan in Miami, Our Lady of the Lakes in Miami Lakes and St. David in Davie, as well as administrator of St. Philip Neri in Opa-Locka (1972-74).

He also served as director of vocations (1969-72) and financial administrator (1993-95) for the archdiocese. He obtained a master's degree in school administration from Florida State University in 1976.

But his favorite assignment, he told the Florida Catholic, was being founding pastor of St. Mark in Southwest Ranches. When he took on the position in July 1985, he said, he had 60 people in attendance at Mass. By the time he left in 1995, St. Mark had 10,000 registered parishioners.

"He loved St. Mark Parish. It was his baby," Archbishop Favalora said.

In 1996, Msgr. Hennessey was named a prelate of honor, or monsignor. In 2007, he was elevated to the highest rank of monsignor, protonotary apostolic supernumerary. He retired from active ministry in September 2010, although he continued for as long as he could celebrating daily Mass for the Pastoral Center staff at St. Martha in Miami Shores, and weekend Masses at St. Mark.

"I don't think I can say that I ever had an unhappy day in my whole life," he told the Florida Catholic upon his retirement. "And that's a blessing."

Msgr. Hennessey, the youngest of two children, is survived by his nieces, Kathleen Dibble of West Palm Beach and Sharon Mason of Charlotte, North Carolina, and a nephew, Mark Patterson, of West Palm Beach; as well as a number of grandnieces and grandnephews.

Editor's note: This story has been changed to correct the years that Msgr. Hennessey worked at Pace High School.

Comments from readers

Doreen Kawas - 07/03/2020 01:39 PM
Will always remember you and my continued prayers Msgr Hennessey. You led a group us of St Mark parishioners on a very unknown ministry back then called, RCIA. Thank you. It has been a joy. Rest in eternal peace.
Maria E. Maguire - 07/02/2020 03:30 PM
Of the many Archdiocesan assignments he served with dedication, St. Mark Parish was his favorite. I agree with Lynne that he and the Dalton brothers are singing Irish songs together in heaven. Well done, faithful servant. May you rest in Peace enjoying the rewards for such a life of hard work in our Catholic Church.
Lynn VanderWyde - 07/01/2020 06:18 PM
He was a good friend of St. Bernadette Church and School during some tough times throughout the nineties. He and the Dalton brothers are sharing Irish songs in Heaven.
Emilio Alonso-Mendoza - 07/01/2020 06:04 PM
I had the privilege of working with Monsignor Hennessey for 6 years. During that time,my Catholic formation was strengthened thanks to his knowledge and commitment to the faith. Each lunch and dinner we shared was another lesson . We will miss him. Rest In Peace , dear Monsignor.
Emilio Alonso-Mendoza - 07/01/2020 06:04 PM
I had the privilege of working with Monsignor Hennessey for 6 years. During that time,my Catholic formation was strengthened thanks to his knowledge and commitment to the faith. Each lunch and dinner we shared was another lesson . We will miss him. Rest In Peace , dear Monsignor.
Nicholas S Grubbs - 07/01/2020 07:42 AM
My family and I were one of the original parishioners of St. Mark's parish in 1985. I can still recall Fr. Hennessey's beautiful voice when he sung at mass or sang Danny Boy. He will always be remembered by me and my family as a wonderful priest and spiritual leader of St. Mark's parish.
Very Rev. Hector R. G. Perezy Robles, STD - 06/30/2020 06:11 PM
Sorry to hear this. He was very kind to me when in the High School Seminary. May he rest in peace.
Ana Rodriguez-Soto - 06/30/2020 10:02 AM
Hi, Ana Marie, typically, viewings in church are not very long. The public is welcome while adhering to COVID-19 guidelines, that is, keeping social distancing and wearing masks at all times. Thanks.
Ana Marie Q. Lowry - 06/30/2020 06:33 AM
Is there supposed to be no one in attendance (than than St. Mark pastor and Msgr. Edward Pace HS) which is why there is only 50 min. viewing followed by the burial?

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