Former Mission Member, Pastoral Associate Still Provides Support

Posted: 10/3/2011

Ron and Eleanor HenleyThe first time Eleanor Henley heard of Glenmary was in 1975, when Father Charlie Hughes came to pastor her small Catholic mission parish in Crossett, Ark. Since then, Glenmary missioners have had a life-changing impact on her as well as her husband Ron, their three children, fellow parishioners, and many others in that county and beyond.

That's why Eleanor and Ron have generously supported Glenmary since the 1980s, and why she decided to establish a charitable gift annuity with Glenmary in 2002. "I strongly believe in what Glenmary does," Eleanor says. "And Glenmary has given us so much that I wanted to repay them in some way." As members of the Boost-A-Month Club, she and Ron also make monthly donations.

Eleanor, 72, grew up in heavily Catholic south Louisiana. As a college student, she was so devoted to furthering her Catholic education that she took extra courses through the local Newman Center.

She and Ron married in 1961, and four years later their young family settled in Crossett. "It was a shock," she says, "to be in a place where Catholics were such a small minority."

When the family joined Holy Cross Church, there were fewer than 25 active families. "But the parish became our second family. I got involved in everything from teaching religious education to cleaning the church. Back then, our women's group also acted as a sort of unofficial parish council."

After Father Charlie arrived in 1975, she says, he and later Glenmary missioners encouraged mission members to become more involved in parish ministry than ever before. "The Glenmarians were very active in parish life," Eleanor says. "They also reached out to other churches, ministers and people in need. And their simple lifestyle was such a great example."

When Father Jerry Dorn was pastor, "he took a group of us to Notre Dame for four summer retreats, and I realized how much I missed continuing my education," Eleanor says.

"So in 1990, when I read that Loyola University New Orleans' pastoral ministry education program was being offered in our diocese, I checked into it right away. I was already the parish secretary, but I wanted a larger role. And Father Jerry was very encouraging. He helped arrange for Glenmary to pay my tuition."

She made the weekly, six-hour round trip to Little Rock for 2½ years. "I loved the whole experience and graduated in 1993. The next year, I became our parish's first pastoral associate, and I was blessed to work with Glenmary for the next 10 years. It was very fulfilling." She resigned in 2004, a year after Glenmary turned the mission back to the Diocese of Little Rock.

In 1990, Glenmary helped change her husband's life, too. Eleanor says that Ron, then a non-Catholic, had always been involved in mission activities. But he finally decided to convert to Catholicism because of his association with the Glenmary priests. Over the years, "he has become a much more spiritual person," she says.

The pair are now back in Louisiana, living in Baton Rouge, the proud grandparents of seven. But they still keep in contact with Glenmary friends and read Glenmary publications faithfully. And they still support Glenmary through Eleanor's annuity and their donations.

Eleanor shares yet another way Glenmary has had a long-lasting impact on her family. "Father Tom Charters witnessed our daughter and older son's marriages. And Father Jerry did the same for our younger son," she says. "All these years later, they are all good friends and keep in touch. And the priests have visited our sons and their families."

The reasons the relationships continue are simple. "Those two priests were very involved in parish activities with the teenagers when our kids were growing up," Eleanor says, "and the men were inspirations to them." The younger son has also become a Glenmary donor.

Eleanor says her family continues to admire Glenmary's work with people in spiritual and material need in the rural South and Appalachia. "And we'll always be thankful for the influence Glenmary has had on our lives."

This article appears in the Winter 2011 Planning Ahead newsletter.