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November 4 - 17, 2012

It wasn’t the life of Riley, but he’s stronger for it

By Dolores Madlener

STAFF WRITER

Interviewee

Father James Heneghan at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, 3834 N. Spaulding Ave., on Oct. 26. Natalie Battaglia / Catholic New World

He is: Father James Heneghan, pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish as it prepares to celebrate its centennial Nov. 18. Former pastor of St. Bonaventure for 13 years. Former chaplain to divorced, separated and remarried Catholics. Ordained at Mundelein in 1983.

Youth: “I’m from a family of nine. My older brother is 11 months older than me and my younger brother is 16 years younger. There were two families — five children, and then my mom ‘went on sabbatical,’ and then she had four more.

“We grew up in Englewood at St. Justin Martyr, a great community. Dad worked for the sanitation district as a city garbage man. My brothers were into sports. I was more the sissy kid who did art and read books. Sister Concetta, a Mercy nun at St. Justin’s, taught me guitar. The most fearful moment of my life was playing ‘Born Free’ at Lindblom High School for the eighth-grade concert in front of 300 people.

“My parents divorced when I was at Quigley. One morning at Mass when I was newly ordained, a woman was visibly upset in church. After Mass she said, ‘Oh Father, you wouldn’t understand. You grew up in an upper class family. My husband is an alcoholic.’ I said, ‘I grew up on the South Side of Chicago, poor as church mice, we were on welfare after the divorce, and my father drank like a fish. I understand completely.’ She broke down and poured her heart out.

“Because of the alcoholism in our family I am a recovering alcoholic. I’ve been in AA since July 8, 1989.”

Jobs: “I was a paper boy from third grade. I delivered the Sun-Times, the Trib, Chicago Today, Chicago American, and Daily News to homes, and then my brother and I sold them at church every Sunday all through high school. We struggled financially because there were a lot of kids and expenses. I did work-study at Quigley and in college. I worked at Osco for a while, at White Hen for a while and odd jobs.”

Prayer life: “I watched a PBS special recently about darkness. It said when you live in urban areas you don’t appreciate the night sky because we’re so illuminated. They said it has an impact on our spirituality because we don’t see how little we are compared to the universe. My substitute for that is the peace I find by water -- lakes, rivers or oceans -- even at Stritch Retreat House.

My favorite is with the Oblates in Buffalo, Minn. I used to give retreats there, and the Cenacle in Warrenville. For years I gave retreats there to divorced and separated. It was spiritually energizing to see people move through healing.”

Bilingual: He speaks Spanish. Besides formal study he lived with a Mexican family at Maternity BVM Parish for a time. “I preach, speak and understand Spanish, but when you’re tired it’s hard. I’ve been in Spanish-speaking parishes since ordination: St. Mary’s in Des Plaines, St. John Berchmans, St. Bonaventure and here at IHM for six years.”

Leisure: “I like reading things as profound as Augustine or as goofy as John Grisham. I just read the ‘The Glass Castle’ by Jeannette Walls, who wrote about her (in my opinion) American version of ‘Angela’s Ashes.’ It made me think my family wasn’t as crazy as I thought we were.

“I see a lot of theater. The energy of live theater helps my preaching and prayer life. It’s us talking and us listening.

“I enjoy traveling any place in Europe, where you’re eight hours away from everyone’s phone! I’ve been to Ireland about five times and said Mass where my grandfather was baptized. My mother’s father migrated from Tuam, Co. Galway. My father was from Tourmakeady, Co. Mayo. The towns are about an hour apart. I saved money to go to China when I quit smoking on Oct. 8, 2007, at 1:52 a.m. A friend was going with me so I had to keep the pledge.”

Favorite Scripture verse: “John 14:6: ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”