Bishop Olson, parishioners celebrate Deacon Harry Heinz' 40 years in ministry
BEDFORD — During a Nov. 5 St. Michael Parish Mass celebrating Deacon Harry Heinz’ service, Father Balaji Boyalla, SAC, jokingly announced Dcn. Heinz’s years with the Bedford parish as 100. The actual number falls a bit short of the century mark at a still impressive 40 years, making Dcn. Heinz the Diocese of Fort Worth’s longest serving active deacon.
Bishop Michael Olson, who concelebrated the Mass, praised the role of deacons in general and Dcn. Heinz in particular.
“I particularly give thanks for the ministry and friendship of Dcn. Harry Heinz,” Bishop Olson said. “Dcn. Harry has brought a gift — especially in perseverance of service.
The prelate characterized the diaconate as a bridge ministry between laity and clergy.
“So that we don’t forget or overlook those who would otherwise fall through the cracks,” Bishop Olson said. “Dcn. Harry has exemplified that particular ministry, which is different from that of a priest, and Harry is a true deacon.”
Bishop Olson spoke of the “immeasurable” weddings, Baptisms, homilies, and outreach efforts performed by Dcn. Heinz.
Dcn. Heinz’ tenure as parishioner and as a deacon stretches back to Father Michael Irwin, St. Michael’s second pastor, and a time before the church’s current building existed.
“We were meeting at Harwood Junior High School while this church building was under construction,” Dcn. Heinz said. “On St. Michael’s Feast Day in 1979 they dedicated this building.”
For Fr. Boyalla, who arrived at the parish a little over four years ago, Dcn. Heinz’ experience and wisdom has meant much.
“Everyone knows Dcn. Harry,” Fr. Boyalla said. “He’s a friend, a teacher, and an inspiration to us all.”
Fr. Boyalla spoke of Dcn. Heinz baptizing parishioners and later their children and even grandchildren.
“Dcn. Harry received a gift of life from God, but in turn he became a gift to the people of this parish,” Fr. Boyalla said. “When I came here and he explained the history of the parish, I felt already he was someone I could depend on, and it was so. I depended on him a lot and knew, if I didn’t know something, I could always ask him.”
A New Jersey native, Dcn. Heinz moved to Texas in 1979 — two years after St. Michael was established — having been transferred by his job at American Airlines and went on to become a deacon in 1982.
The diaconate wasn’t part of his plan.
“I didn’t want to go into the diaconate program,” Heinz said. “I fought it.”
Dcn. Heinz’s grandfather was among the founders of the New Jersey parish Dcn. Heinz grew up in and in which his father served as an usher for years. Dcn. Heinz also became involved with his hometown church, but not as a deacon.
“A friend of mine was being ordained as a deacon and invited me to one of his classes, which was interesting, so I went back a second time,” Dcn. Heinz said.
The monsignor running the classes several times suggested that Dcn. Heinz should consider becoming a deacon, only to be turned down repeatedly.
“Finally, I told him to just talk to my wife,” Dcn. Heinz said. “She told him, ‘If he wants to go, go ahead.’ So I went into the program.”
The move to Texas interrupted Dcn. Heinz’ studies about a year into his program. Fortunately, after Fr. Irwin learned that Dcn. Heinz had started the process in New Jersey, he quickly convinced Dcn. Heinz to enter the formation program here. Or not so quickly. None of the dates available worked out until Dcn. Heinz finally signed on for a program in Longview.
“He had a full-time job, discerning, his training, and raising our kids,” said Millie Heinz, Dcn. Heinz’s wife of 58 years. “A lot of juggling. But it all worked out and I think it was meant to. You make it work out.”
Dcn. Heinz agreed.
“Just being there for people,” Dcn. Heinz answered, when asked what being a deacon has meant to him. “One thing is marriage preparation. Especially being able to get a couple married outside the Church and getting their marriage worked out to bring them back into the Church, back home. Also, funeral services, to be there to give some consolation to the families.”
The love that St. Michael parishioners hold for Dcn. Heinz was evident during a reception hosted after the Nov. 5 Mass.
“He and his family have been friends of our family for as long as I can remember,” parishioner Libby Stripling said.
Dcn. Heinz joked that, 40 plus years on, he’s probably an official Texan now.
“I love Texas,” Dcn. Heinz said. “But still miss New Jersey, miss the shore. If you come from New Jersey, it’s not the beach, it’s the shore.”