Died 8 January 2016
Jesuit Father John J. (Jack) Heaney died on Jan. 8, 2016, at the St. Alphonsus Rodríguez Pavilion in Grand Coteau, Louisiana. He was 92 years old, a Jesuit for 75 years and a priest for 63 years.
Born in Corry, Pennsylvania on April 15, 1923, while his mother was visiting her family there, Fr. Heaney was then brought back to his family's home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He attended St. Mary’s grade school and high school, graduating in 1940. He entered the Society of Jesus on Aug. 14, 1940 at St. Charles College in Grand Coteau. Following first vows, he studied humanities in Grand Coteau and philosophy and chemistry at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, earning his Bachelor of Science in 1947.
He was missioned to Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon, which was at that time a mission the New Orleans Province shared with the Province of Naples. He taught at St. Michael College in Batticaloa from 1947-50. His theology studies were at De Nobili College, Poona (1950-51) and St. Mary’s College, Kurseong, India (1951-54). He was ordained to the priesthood on Nov. 21, 1952 in Kurseong. He made Tertianship (a period of Jesuit religious formation with profound focus on spiritual renewal and prayer) in Kodaikanal, India (1953-54), and pronounced his final vows on Aug. 15, 1957 at St. Joseph College, Trincomalee, Sri Lanka.
Fr. Heaney spent the next 15 years in Sri Lanka, first as a teacher at St. Joseph’s College in Trincomalee (1954-61). When Sri Lanka became a vice-province in 1962, he served as the first director of novices for the new novitiate there (1962-69) and became a member of that vice-province. He also worked with the seminarians of the diocese. In both of these roles, he made a great contribution toward the development of a local clergy and is fondly remembered by many who benefitted from his direction as seminarians or novices.
When he returned to the United States and the New Orleans Province, Fr. Heaney worked for two years at Corpus Christ Minor Seminary in Corpus Christi, Texas, then moved to Dallas. From then on the great majority of his ministry would be in Dallas and the surrounding area—more than 33 years spanning four decades. During those years he was teacher and the rector at Jesuit College Preparatory (1972-80), pastor and superior at St. Rita’s Parish (1980-88, 1999-2010), retreat director and superior at Montserrat Retreat House in Lake Dallas (1990-92, 1995-97). About 20 of those years were at St. Rita’s in various capacities, which was then a Jesuit parish. He was pastor there during the time when the present church building was constructed. He also spent some time at his home parish of Immaculate Conception in Albuquerque, and was pastor/superior there for three years (1992-95).
In 2003, when the New Orleans Province decided to turn St. Rita’s parish over to the Diocese of Dallas, Fr. Heaney, to ease the transition, remained on with the new pastor, Msgr. Mark Seitz—now the Bishop of El Paso. After a year, Fr. Heaney returned briefly to his "hometown" of Albuquerque, but soon returned to St. Rita’s, where the pastor and his many friends welcomed him with open arms. He remained there until 2010, when his declining health prompted him to request that he move to the Jesuit elder care residence in Grand Coteau.
As a pastor, Fr. Heaney's genial and kindly manner spoke strongly to parishioners and others to whom he ministered. He was held in great esteem wherever he had worked, but nowhere more than in Dallas. At St. Rita’s in Dallas, his contribution over so many years is legendary. He was willing to handle the administrative duties that went with being a pastor, but his heart was always in service to the people with whose care he was entrusted. Fr. Heaney also was very attentive to the needs of the diocesan clergy for support and was a spiritual director to many. His relationships with the diocesan clergy were such that he was, for a time, the bishop’s vicar for clergy. At the time of his Golden Jubilee as a Jesuit, the superior general commended him for being a “priest for priests.”
Fr. Heaney was preceded in death by his parents, James Joseph Heaney and Barbara Norton Heaney; his brother, James Norton Heaney; and his sisters Mrs. Walter Burger (Mary), Mrs. Eugene Paul (Dorothy) and Sr. Marie Amadea, SC (née Elinor). He is survived by a number of nieces and nephews, including Fr. John F. Paul, S.J., also a member of the USA Central and Southern Province of the Society of Jesus.