As he was finishing his last few days at St. Joseph Catholic Church, a pile of thank you letters sat on Father Bill Henry’s desk Thursday. He read one out aloud.
“Words can never express my gratitude for all the kindness to me and my whole family. Only Heaven can bring such things. Because of you, I will constantly seek our Heavenly Father,” he read.
After he stopped reading, Father Henry reflected on his eight years working as a priest for the Greenville church.
“It is something that I didn’t realize at the time, but then when I look back at it, I am like ‘Oh, My Gosh! These people have received the Lord!’” he said.
A few weeks short of his 75th birthday, Father Henry is retiring as a full time priest. Next week, he will move to McComb, where he will fill in for parishes and also work at faith conferences and leading people in their spiritual journeys. Now that he has some free time, he hopes to do some traveling, and he also plans on coming back to Greenville regularly.
Father Henry said, perhaps, the thing he will miss most about the Greenville parish is the school he helped grow.
“We had a school that at the time I arrived was struggling and now we are debt free,” he said. “My big goal was to keep the school going and to nurture the people here at St. Joe. I think the future is much brighter. I really enjoy watching children grow and become successful.”
Last year, former parishioner Salvador Sarulio left the school a sizable amount of money in his will, allowing the teachers and students at the school to have all the resources they need.
“That was such a blessing for us,” Father Henry said.
Father Henry said he believes in today’s current environment adults in the community can learn a lot from St. Joseph Catholic School.
“Our kids at the school are 50 percent African-American, but they are together. They do not know color,” he said. “Our kids love one another, and I think we need to be practicing that here in the community. We need to continue to look for opportunities where we can get to know one another and not be afraid of one another. We really need to start experiencing what it means to love yourself as you love God and your neighbor.”
Father Henry was born in Orlando, Florida, and was raised in Washington state. He spent his early adult life mostly on the West Coast, and had a successful career working for the Nissan Motor Company.
Then, at the age of 34, he realized his true calling was to the priesthood.
“I was very successful in the car business and in what I was doing,” he said. “I was very comfortable, and I got to a point where I did not even want to go up in the company. Then things started to happen. I started praying more and going to different conferences, and the Lord started speaking to me a lot more.
“One day, Father said, ‘I think you are being called for religious life.’ I remember my heart was numb for a couple of days, but I just said, ‘OK, Lord. If this is your will, I will do it.’ And I had a peace, and then everything opened up. The day I drove down the road to the seminary, I never turned back. I just knew this was what God wanted me to do.”
And, 40 years later, he is still pleased with the decision.
“I am a happy person, and I enjoy life and I enjoy people. I really love the power of God’s spirit moving through me, and that gives me a great joy in my life,” he said.
In his time at Greenville, Father Henry has earned the respect and admiration of many people, especially people like St. Joseph bookkeeper Clara Mandolini.
“I am going to miss his kind and loving spirit,” Mandolini said. “I will miss how he was always willing to listen, and he was always willing to help. He is a kind spirit and a very good man.”