HISTORY OF SAINT HENRY CHURCH AND SCHOOL
Well past 80, the man and his daughter drove out each day to the farm on the highway to Memphis. It was not far out from town, but for years, the only building of consequence had been the white barn with its country red roof. Now the church dominated the hill across the road. As the man and his daughter rode their horses across the field, they spied the men working in the church’s front yard. With pitchforks, the men were digging rocks out of the soil. The one worker, his long legs bent under him as he kneeled and tugged on a rock, and his cap pulled down over his face, caught their attention, “It was Father Joe,” recalls Mrs. Dorothy Dubuisson, the daughter of Henry Neuhoff. “Mr. Neuhoff was always impressed by those who picked up a broom,” said Monsignor Joseph Siener, the first pastor of St. Henry Catholic Church, with a knowing smile when the incident was recounted to him.
Some four years before that horseback ride, Mr. Neuhoff and seven other men met with Bishop William Adrian. The men had asked for the meeting on January 15, 1953 at the Chancery Building on Charlotte Avenue to discuss with the bishop, their desire for a church to serve the area known as Belle Meade.
The bishop said he was not interested in a chapel for a few, but he wanted a school. The men that had met with him asked, if they could get the property donated and could get Father Joe Siener as pastor, could they build the church? On December 29, 1954, Mr. Neuhoff deeded to Bishop Adrian and the Diocese of Nashville, sixteen acres of land necessary for the building of a church and school.
Census, taken two years from the original meeting indicated that there would be 225 Catholic families. Then came the naming of the church. Bishop Adrian put it nicely. He thought it fitting since St. Henry was a builder of churches and Mr. Neuhoff was an outstanding Catholic layman, that it should be called St. Henry. The Saint Henry for whom the church is “officially” named was a German king, born in 973 and died in 1024. As king and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, he built a number of churches and monasteries.
The boundaries of the parish were laid out in April 1955, and then on June 10, 1955, Monsignor Joseph Siener was named pastor of the new St. Henry Church.
Ground was broken for the new church and school on April 4, 1956, Construction began on August 1956. As construction continued at a steady pace, Bishop Adrian came to the top of the hill to lay the corner stone on July 21, 1957.
The school building opened on August 29, 1957 for registration. Mass was said in the school until Bishop Adrian officially dedicated St. Henry Church and School on April 21, 1958.
A group of young priests, several of them teachers at Father Ryan High School, worked on the stained-glass windows in the church. Patterns were laid out on the gymnasium floor, the only location large enough for them. Bishop James D. Neidergeses chose the biblical texts that are illustrated and Father Leo Siener suggested the theme of the seven virtues and vices, with the rose window of the Good Shepherd. The group of priests then worked together to choose the historical and biblical characters who practiced the virtues and struggled with the vices. Mr. Rudolph Buenz, of Newton, NJ, crafted the windows.
The parish was growing and each year the school had to add one more classroom. In 1960, the enrollment in the school had increased to 292 students. At the beginning of the new decade, 1970’s, there were more than 400 students in the school and 500 families in the parish, doubling the original numbers.
The parish center construction began in June 1972 and was completed in August 1973 at a cost of $400,000. The building provided living quarters for the priests, offices and meeting space. The area that is currently the Atrium was originally designed for just that, but Monsignor Rohling wanted it to be a chapel, where people would be brought “close to the altar.”
The need for additional space in Saint Henry School had continued and in February 1993, a fundraising effort began. In October 1994, ground broke for the school addition and renovation. The newly renovated Saint Henry School was dedicated in September 1995, allowing space for approximately 600 students.
As the parish grew from the original 200 families to over 2,000 families, it became evident that St. Henry Church needed to expand, as well as create more meeting and gathering space. On November 2004, there was a groundbreaking for the new Church, Chapel, and Fellowship Hall, which were dedicated at Mass on November 18, 2006.
Pastors of St. Henry Church and School
June 1955, Monsignor Joe Seiner
August 1970, Monsignor George Rohling
August 1982, Fr. William Bevington
August 1989, Fr. Charley Giacosa
January 1991, Fr. Michael Johnston
August 2015 to present, Fr. Mark Beckman