As an usher at St. Augustine Church, Pat Henry is used to being recognized by people he doesn’t necessarily know. In a takeout shop recently, a customer in front of him was putting money in the tip jar. “The next thing I know she turns around and says, I’m practicing for Sunday!”
Actually, there is much to know about Francis Patrick Henry. At 82 years old, he has been an Ocean City resident since 1938 and is one of the oldest, continuous members of the parish. He was educated through the eighth grade at the original St. Augustine Catholic School, then located at Second St. and Atlantic Ave. He recalls how the school’s founding priest, Father Thomas F. Blake, would distribute boxes of chocolate to the students with the best report cards. Although Pat never did get a box of chocolate, he did get a fine education, along with his two siblings. “The nuns were dedicated to our lives, and they were good to us,” he explained.
During the Second World War, he recalled how the school playground was used for a scrap drive, filling up with piles of metal for the war effort. Pat became an altar boy when he was in grade school, at a time when the Mass was still conducted in Latin. “We had to take training and learn what was being said to know what to do,” Pat recalled. Occasionally, the nuns would choose him to help with after-school chores at the convent on Thirteenth Street. After a reward of milk and cookies, he would walk all the way home to First and West. “One day, I got home so late, my mother was certain I had been kept at school for doing something wrong,” he laughed. “I had to explain I had been at the convent raking leaves and putting up storm windows.”
After graduating from Ocean City High School, where he was the catcher on the baseball team, Pat was drafted into the Army for two years. By 1960, he was working for the Ocean City fire department, remaining as a firefighter until he retired in 1987. Pat and his wife, Marian (a Philadelphia “shoobie”), have been married for 59 years and have four children and ten grandchildren. Personalized plates with the names of family members are on display near the kitchen of their home, a home that Pat built with his own hands.
As a younger man in the early 1970s, Pat was a member of the Parish Council, providing guidance on issues of buildings and maintenance. For the past ten years, Pat has been helping to drive senior parishioners to medical appointments. “I don’t mind helping people. People have helped me,” he said simply. “Besides, you meet wonderful people.” Pat’s eyes filled with tears as he remembered one parishioner who lived alone in her own home, surviving to be 105 years old. “I was so proud and glad to have met her,” he said.
The Catholic community in Ocean City has seen many changes in 80 years, but according to Pat, “the faithful still come.” He gives credit to Father Michael Rush for his success in merging and shepherding such a large parish. Pat also paid tribute to the Hispanic congregation in Ocean City. “Such a welcome addition to our parish and our city,” he said, adding that he and his wife attend the Spanish language Mass a few times a year. No matter which church he enters, Pat looks forward to Mass, calling it his time for “bonding with the Lord.” Pat lives his life in a state of quiet gratitude. “You have to be thankful for what you have and the life you live, where you live and the freedom that you have,” he reflected. “You just try to do what is right and just.”