Birth: February 14, 1918
Profession: August 2, 1943
Death: November 12, 2012
Religious of the Sacred Heart Catherine Henry, longtime educator and construction engineer, died Monday, November 12, at Oakwood, the Society of the Sacred Heart’s elder care center in Atherton, California. Sister Henry served for more than 30 years at Duchesne Academy and Duchesne College in Omaha, Nebraska. Her life will be celebrated in a Memorial Mass Saturday, December 1 at 10:00 a.m. at Oakwood, 140 Valparaiso Avenue, Atherton, CA 94027. She donated her body to Stanford Medical School.
Catherine Ellen Henry was born in Rogers, Nebraska, February 14, 1918, the seventh of the eight children of Francis Joseph and Anna Murphy Henry. Her parents and six of her siblings – Patrick Henry, Mary Henry, RSCJ, Richard Henry, Joseph Henry, Jack Henry and Thomas Henry – preceded her in death. She is survived by her sister, Margaret (Mrs. William R.) O’Neill, nephews Tom O'Neill, SJ, San Francisco; Bill O'Neill, SJ, Berkeley, Calif.; Joseph O'Neill, MD, Endicott City, Md.; and Thomas Henry, Los Angeles; nieces Rita Henry and Jean Seibel, Omaha, Neb.; Mary Costello, Lincoln, Neb. and Ann Henry Becker, Metairie, La.
She will be remembered with fond affection by her sisters in the Society of the Sacred Heart, former students and colleagues, devoted friends and the staff at Oakwood who loved her dearly during her final years.
Sister Henry entered the Society of the Sacred Heart in Albany on June 27, 1935. She made first vows in 1938 and final vows in 1943.
Sister Henry’s education ministry began in 1938 at Convent of the Sacred Heart, Sheridan Road, Chicago. She spent eighteen years teaching various grades and subjects at Forest Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Seattle. Then in 1958, she moved to Omaha, Nebraska, where she served in many capacities at Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart and Duchesne College while continuing her education in science. She had obtained an engineering certificate in Seattle which served her well while supervising construction of three buildings on the Duchesne campus.
Sister Henry enjoyed her “fifteen minutes of fame” after her photograph was taken wearing a hard hat with the name “Hank” on it, and the photo was syndicated worldwide. The London Tablet stated, “Like any other engineer, Mother Catherine Henry, RSCJ, wears a hard hat on the job. The difference is, of course, that other engineers don’t place it atop a coif... Mother Henry’s training is a result of an early assignment to see that the boilers in a convent operated correctly. Now she can be seen, as often as not, climbing a ladder, crawling along a high beam or on the ground reading blueprints.”
When Sister Henry retired from teaching in 1985, she tutored at the Omaha Literacy Council, participated in the rite of Christian Initiation at the cathedral of Omaha, did community service and genealogical research. In June of 1999, she joined the retirement community of the Society of the Sacred Heart in Atherton, CA where she was a much-loved member, always cheerful, grateful and uncomplaining about her many physical ills.
One of Sister Henry’s nieces, Mary Henry Costello, commented on what an impression Catherine made on “thousands of young girls” in her years at Seattle’s Forest Ridge, where she prepared little ones for the reception of their First Confession and First Holy Communion, as well as “thousands of young women” later at Duchesne College, Omaha, where she taught science for more than twenty years. “But she made an even greater impression on us, her family, when in her later years she became simply Aunt Catherine and taught us what true love is. She had to retire from teaching in the late 70’s because of her significant hearing loss…While she kept up with her duties at Duchesne and baked, decorated, cooked and worked with volunteers and staff, producing wondrous things for all sorts of board meetings and special events at the college, she managed to slip off to Lincoln to perform the same kinds of wondrous deeds for a working mom, a newborn baby, a frazzled dad and six grade school kids.
“…People say we love with our hearts, but that’s not true. We really love by listening. Even with hearing impaired ears, Aunt Catherine listened… When she came to Lincoln, she was always ready to listen to countless tales of football games, childish hurts, piano recitals, broken bones, and drivers ed classes. She attended class plays, even when she didn’t hear a thing, never missed a Christmas pageant … Her name is written in gold on our hearts. It’s seared into our hearts.”
Catherine Henry earned her bachelor of arts in chemistry with a minor in English and education and her Master of Arts in education with a minor in physics at the San Francisco College for Women, which was operated by the Society of the Sacred Heart. She was a member of the American Association of Physics Teachers, the American Chemical Society and the National Science Teachers Association. She pursued educational opportunities whenever possible.