The History of Saint Henry Catholic Church

Founded May 16, 1969

Unlike the parishes most of St. Henry's people belonged to before settling at St. Henry's, this new parish had no history, no tradition, no common interest, nor any designated place of worship. True, there was a sign announcing that this was the site of the "future" Catholic Church. This plot of some six acres had been purchased by the Archdiocese some years before on the advice of most Reverend Archbishop Coleman F. Carroll.

The announcement was made that the new parish of St. Henry was to be formed complete with boundary lines and pastor and little else other than a name. In June 1969 the newly appointed pastor, Father Brendan Grogan arrived on the scene and was faced with the impossible task of finding a place for the celebration of mass. But God was very much with him; he was able to rent Northeast High School Auditorium and Pompano racetrack. This necessitated Father Grogan celebrating Sunday masses at the high school at 9:00 a.m. the racetrack at 10:00 a.m., and back to the high school at 11:00 a.m., so he could accommodate the parishioners. He hoped he would soon get assistants or else he would need a fast horse.

Realizing that a church building was not in the near future, Father Grogan was able to rent 3 warehouse on 53rd Street and thru the efforts of the parishioners, converted two of the warehouse into a hall and the third warehouse into a chapel. Two years later due to insufficient parking space. He was forced to move back to the high school for Saturday and Sunday masses and rent another smaller warehouse on North Andrews's extension for daily Masses and parish functions.

The St. Henry spirit that prevails today was manifested in October 1972 when Father Grogan called together a group of parishioners to help organize and conduct a building Fund Campaign. Some 100 men and women answered the call; captains were appointed, the work of campaigning was divided by a general chairman, the success of the campaign was manifested in the beautiful structure of St. Henry's Church, completed in 1974 and dedicated by Archbishop Coleman Carroll on Saturday December 14, 1974, at an impressive Mass of dedication.

early photo of St Henry church

Father Grogan was very happy to move out of the warehouse and the little "house on 6th Avenue" and into the lovely rectory also built next to the church. Many parishes in the Archdiocese have had a variety of beginning, but St. Henry's was unique in having Masses at a race track. Now that the church/hall building was completed it took the parish organizations no time to start the functions necessary to finance the parish. Many social activities were sponsored by the Women's Guild and Men's Club, C.C.D. classes were conducted on Sunday morning, and by the 1975 season we were able to have Bishop Nevins officiate at the First Confirmation class ceremonies, then the beautiful Holy Week Liturgy and First Communion class reception of the Eucharist on Holy Thursday. Our pastor was sent two assistants; Father, Harold Masterson, and Father Warren Brau. By 1978 we had our first carnival on the parish grounds, the big raffle on a Pontiac Firebird and the winner announced at the St. Henry's Fair in December.

St. Henry's Follies, directed by Father Braun was a huge success and was repeated in 1977. We had such a crowd we had to go to St. Clement's hall for the production. Our cast of parishioners truly were amazing, such hidden talent! The programs on our calendar multiplies and the hall was kept busy with all types of social events, like St. Patrick's Party, Card Parties, Bingo, Pot Luck Suppers, and anniversary celebration for Father Braun. The years went on very swiftly and in May of 1979 we celebrated the 10th Anniversary of the founding of the parish with a special procession of all the people and a beautiful liturgy, followed by a party in the hall.

The years passed the people of St. Henry growing in number and grace with our beloved pastor had his devoted assistants. Father Frank Lucy joined us and lived in a large trailer next to the rectory. In 1980 we were very saddened to learn of Father Grogan's transfer to St. Andrews Parish in Coral Springs. At his farewell party he thanked from his heart the people who saw him thru the tremendous work of establishing a parish for the very beginning.

In the summer of 1980 Father James Reynolds from St. James in Miami drove up I-95 and searched a while to find our church among the warehouses on North Andrews. It wasn't long before he saw the need of a separate parish hall. Immediately he established and met with the Parish Council and proposed his unique concept for inaugurating a fund raising for the construction of the parish hall. $1,000 interest free loans, to be paid back in three years, which was accepted overwhelmingly by parishioners. Soon construction was begun and by 1983 under ever-watchful supervision of our new priestly assistant, Father Joseph Hompes, the hall was completed and dedicated in May 1983, by Archbishop McCarthy. A new era had begun for our parish.

Fr. James Reynolds

The pace quickens under our new dynamic pastor, with the first gala Christmas Ball, a parish open house, Bingo every Tuesday, family breakfasts monthly, sponsored by the Men's Club, parties, dinners, and deanery meetings sponsored by our Women's Guild. The start of "Henry's Hideaway" began with the donation from a former restaurateur of a bar and kitchen equipment for our new hall. The bar was rebuilt and installed in a room in the rear of the hall and became Henry's Hideaway, a private club, licensed by the State, with a full time bartender. The Rectory Committee closely supervises membership and all local and State regulations are strictly enforced. A great deal of controversy followed this event and the news media caught on - Time magazine visited and got an exclusive interview from Father Reynolds also featured on Tom Brokow's Nightly News on Aug. 14, 1984. Archbishop McCarthy responded to critics that "Henry's Hideaway" was a pastoral experiment to provide a wholesome meeting place outside of the commercial bars. Although the arrangement involves some risks, he expects that a wholesome atmosphere will be created with a sense of Christian responsibility similar to a good Christian home.

The spiritual life of the parish continues apace with yearly Forty Hours devotion. Year rounds Saturday Novena to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, and yearly visit of Father William McKeon to conduct a Mission to the Blessed Virgin. Also throughout the year the daily masses and Sunday liturgies, days of recollection and mini retreats, special mass, anniversary masses for all couples of the parish, confirmations, First Communions, holy days and holy week liturgies, as well as all the bible classes, CCD classes, wedding and funerals and memorial masses, all the usual part of a parish spiritual life.

Each year the Rectory Committee headed by our pastor published a schedule of activities, which fills a legal size sheet on both sides. With the variety shows dinner/dances and special events like the Ink Spots and the Guy Lombardo Band to be held in the parish hall. In addition special events such as North Broward District Meetings, hosted by the Women's Guild, hosting Pre-Cana Conference, Synod Meetings, and Knights of Columbus events and meetings. Antique shows and special parish celebrations of priestly anniversaries during the year. The rental of the hall for weddings and other events, especially during the year. The rental of the hall for weddings and other events, especially during the slow summer months, and of course weekly Bingo keep this hall humming year around.

Another big event was the building of the rectory and converting the old rectory into a parish office in the parish conference room in the hall.

This wonderful parish has grown in spite of an out of the way location, with our founding Pastor Father Grogan starting us on our way, and continues to this day with our wonderful pastor Fr. Francis Akwue, C.S.Sp. We have grown and become the Family of St. Henry, with Spirit, Love, and Togetherness, a People of God, looking ahead to the future and beyond, Thanking God for his multitude of Blessings on the way.

Since 2005, when Msgr. Reynolds retired, the parish has been led by Father Francis Akwue. He has successfully overseen the completion of renovations that included adding a front facade to the church's main entrance on Andrews Avenue and McNab Road. A ground breaking ceremony took place in March, 2014 and construction was completed in just 11 months - after four years of fundraising.

ground breaking ceremony

A pile of sand for the groundbreaking event bore eight stones with the names of parishioners and church staff. The stones were placed in the foundation of the new façade.

Fr. Francis speaks at ceremony

Just before Christmas, 2014, parishioners at St. Henry Church celebrated three significant milestones in the history of their parish: the 45th anniversary of its founding, the 40th anniversary of the dedication of the parish church, and the newly completed expansion that has given a "new face" to the church building.

Hundreds joined Archbishop Thomas Wenski at the Mass and blessing December 20, 2014. "I congratulate your pastor, Father Francis, and all of you, for bringing to a successful conclusion this work of renovation here at St. Henry’s," said the archbishop during the homily. "This is more than just a little face lift – this involved some major reconstruction, and the results speak for themselves."

"These improvements solved a few key problems aside from just the curbside appeal," said David Prada, senior director of the Building and Property Office of the archdiocese. "The first is giving the parish a covered drop off, second was adding cry rooms for families with young children.

new covered entrance of church
new open entrance at St Henry

Unlike most churches, St. Henry never had a front entrance. Church-goers entered the church from side doors on the north and south side of the building. “Finally, St. Henry Church will have an appropriate face,” said David Prada, senior director of Building and Construction for the Archdiocese of Miami. “Having to enter from side doors for weddings and funerals was ridiculous,” said Louise DiPretoro, parish secretary from 1981 to 2008, “And when it rained people would get soaked.”

"Of course, all of this gives the idea, nice idea, of expanding the church without adding much square footage and gives it a presence it never had, useful spaces to gather, a sacristy, new roof and confessionals," added Prada.

"This was a special project to be involved with because I'm a parishioner here," said Brian Herbert, project architect for the firm Gallo Herbert Architects. "My parents were founding members of the parish. In fact, I remember being an altar boy at the original groundbreaking of the church. It feels nice to have been part of this, to design and build it."

construction workers of new expansion

During the construction phase of the remodeling project, longtime parishioners, founders and others left their mark in the structure by signing their names on stones that were cast into the new foundation. This significant detail serves as a symbolic gesture that the work of the people is what led to the growth of the church; all for glory of the Lord.

signature stones

"I am so happy, so very, very, happy" said Father Akwue. "This has been in our minds for such a long time. We've been dreaming and planning this for so long that even some that donated money towards it didn't live to see the project fulfilled."

"My hope for the future of the parish is to see more families, especially with children, become more involved even if that means coming here from other areas," Father Akwue said. "Those families will shape the future of the parish."