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The fate of a Boston mission priest in WWII

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A promising young priest, Father Hennessy left the comfort of Boston and his position at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross to spread the Word of God to the Solomon Islands in the Pacific, and ultimately sacrificed his life in doing so.

In observance of World Mission Month this October, there is a new display in the lobby of the Pastoral Center highlighting documents related to missionary priest Father James "Jim" Hennessey. A promising young priest, Father Hennessey left the comfort of Boston and his position at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross to spread the Word of God to the Solomon Islands in the Pacific, and ultimately sacrificed his life in doing so.

Father Hennessey was born in Cambridge in 1905, and as a young man entered St. Anselm's Preparatory School, and later the College, in New Hampshire. After two years of study, he left to join St. John's Seminary, completed his studies in Rome, and was ordained to the priesthood. He returned to Boston shortly after, and found himself serving under the pastor of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, and coincidentally the Director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the future Cardinal Richard J. Cushing.

Through his contact with Cushing, and the missionaries who visited the cathedral while passing through Boston, Father Hennessey realized the importance of their work, and volunteered himself to Bishop Thomas Wade, O.M.I., who oversaw the missions on the Solomon Islands.

While serving, Father Hennessey helped establish a school for children, trained native catechists, and overcame many challenges in doing so. He completed his five years of service in 1941, but agreed to stay until a replacement was available to take his place. Unfortunately, following the outbreak of World War II, the Japanese arrived to occupy the Solomon Islands, and despite warnings, Father Hennessey stayed at his post and was captured by the occupying troops.

For years his fate remained a mystery. During the intervening time, his mentor, Cardinal Cushing, established the Father Jim Hennessey Club in his honor, with the intention of learning about and supporting missions and missionaries around the world. One of Father Hennessey's brothers, Frank, also volunteered himself as Bishop Wade's secretary so that he could continue his brother's work and try to solve the mystery surrounding his disappearance.

Finally, a 1947 letter from the U.S. Navy Department to Frank Hennessey and Cardinal Cushing revealed that Father Hennessey was on the Japanese prisoner ship, the Montevideo Maru, when it was sunk by a U.S. submarine on July 1, 1942.

The display highlights several items related to Father Hennessey's work and the mystery surrounding his disappearance. One document is a booklet by Cardinal Cushing titled, "Where is Father Hennessey?" There are also photographs relating to the Father Jim Hennessey Club, a copy of the letter from the U.S. Navy revealing his fate, and his Mass kit which he buried to protect, and which was later retrieved and returned to Boston.

To find out more about the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, please visit their website, www.propfaithboston.org, or contact the office directly at info@propfaithboston.org or 617-542-1776.

THOMAS LESTER IS THE ARCHIVIST OF THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON.

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