Former diaconate formation director Healey praised for longtime service to diocese
FORT WORTH — When Ann Ruston Healey helped create and execute a comprehensive formation course for deacons with the Diocese of Fort Worth many decades ago, she didn’t know she was sowing the seeds of something that would draw worldwide recognition.
Ms. Healey, who served as director of Permanent Deacon Formation with the diocese beginning in 1984, would garner many honors over the next 26 years.
Among them was being awarded in 2011 the Benemerenti Medal by Pope Benedict XVI for her dedicated service to the Church.
Ms. Healey was also the second woman in the U.S. to direct a deacon formation program and the only woman elected by her peers as President of the National Association of Deacon Directors, a position she held from 1994 to 1996.
A member of St. Andrew Parish in Fort Worth where she served as an RCIA instructor, Ms. Healey died peacefully on Aug. 21 at James L. West Alzheimer’s Center. She was 78.
At her Mass of Christian Burial at Holy Family Parish in Fort Worth on Aug. 25, Father Richard Eldredge, pastor of Good Shepherd Parish in Colleyville, spoke of her dedication to the Church. “This is a great woman of God, a great woman of integrity, and a great woman of the Church.”
Fr. Eldredge talked of the sadness of losing Ms. Healey because she had “lived a good life,” but also pointed out the need “to grieve and support each other with our Christian faith.”
He recalled with emotion meeting Ms. Healy while he was a priest at Sacred Heart Parish in Seymour and found her to be “extremely compassionate and gentle and impressed me daily.”
In an interview in North Texas Catholic in 2010 when well-wishers from all over the diocese gathered at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish in Arlington to congratulate Ms. Healey as she retired, the longtime church servant spoke of the joy her work had brought her.
“I have loved every minute of it,” Ms. Healey said. “Even the tearful moments. Working in formation with men in midlife is wonderful!”
Fr. Eldredge addressed that devotion, saying, “She knew that God loved her because she did so much for other people.”
He said Ms. Healey also worked with the poor and marginalized and would see something of them in Christ.
“It was a privilege to work with Ann,” the Good Shepherd pastor said.
Born on Dec. 29, 1939, in Havana, Cuba, Ms. Healey was raised in Bogota, Columbia, and Mexico City. She was a world traveler, even as a little girl, due to her father’s work as a general manager with an airlines company.
She described herself as “bilingual and bicultural” and used those skills and gifts throughout her life.
Ms. Healey graduated with a bachelor of arts from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1960 and worked as a Spanish language translator for an insurance company in Chicago.
Her passion and sense of service were directed toward those most in need. In 1962, she received her certification in social work and worked in community mental health and services to the elderly.
In 1965, she graduated with a master’s degree in religious studies from Loyola University and entered the Sisters of the Cenacle, serving in rural communities and at the Cenacle Retreat Center in Warrenville, Ill.
Ms. Healey earned a certificate in pastoral care from Saint Louis University in 1980 and completed training as a hospital chaplain, including supervisory studies at hospitals in Missouri, California, and Nebraska.
How she became part of the Diocese of Fort Worth began with a simple response to an ad.
“They wanted someone with spiritual formation experience who could speak Spanish,” Ms. Healey recalled in an interview with North Texas Catholic. “I’m sure I’m not what they had in mind.”
But she welcomed the opportunity to meld her many experiences into a new calling.
In 1984, Ms. Healey accepted the position of Director of Permanent Deacon Formation for the Diocese of Fort Worth and devoted the next 26 years to the formation of men as ordained deacons, ministering throughout North Texas.
Serving under two bishops, she developed a multi-disciplinary program in English and Spanish, which included formal studies, spiritual formation, the participation of candidates’ wives, annual summer service projects, and a year-long internship leading to ordination.
“This is absolutely not my program,” Ms. Healey told the North Texas Catholic upon her retirement. “I’m very proud of the work I’ve done for the diocese and nationally. I got to work with great people. There are priests, deacons, and lay people who gave untold hours of time, teaching, and mentoring. All of these people came together to make this successful.”
Deacon Terry Howard, who was in the last diaconate formation class under Ms. Healey and was ordained in 2009, said of his formation director, “She was quite a personality. She was a prime mover for the whole deacon formation program across the country.”
Dcn. Howard, who assisted in the Mass, said Ms. Healey and her longtime friend and coworker Judy Locke “did a lot toward the acceptance of the role of deacons in the life of the Church.”
A member of St. Andrew Parish, the 71-year-old deacon said of the servant to the diocese, “She was a great lady.”
Ms. Healey also served on the writing committee for the National Directory for the Formation, Ministry, and Life of Permanent Deacons, first published by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2003.
Among her many accomplishments, Ms. Healey developed and directed the Light of Christ Lay Ministry Institute, to prepare lay men and women for service in the diocese.
Deacon Lynn Sowers, who also was in Ms. Healey’s last diaconate formation class, said for him, the Light of Christ ministry “helped deepen my understanding of the Catholic faith.”
Dcn. Sowers, 65, a member of St. Andrew who also assisted in the Mass, said he was humbled by “her dedication to the faith and the diaconate.”