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Obituary: Father Henry Ronan, former Billerica pastor

Father Henry T. Ronan Pilot file photo

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A much beloved former pastor of St. Theresa of Lisieux Parish in Billerica who could easily be described a giant -- in voice, in presence and especially in priestly zeal -- Father Henry Ronan died at St. Patrick Manor in Framingham on April 21. He was 81.

A son of St. James Parish in Salem he was born in the Witch City on Aug. 24 1926. He was one of the five children of the late Massachusetts Supreme Court Justice James Ronan and his wife Marie (Tracy) Ronan. Educated in local schools, he was graduated from Lawrence Academy in 1944. He was commissioned as an ensign in the U.S. Navy Reserve after serving as a midshipman at Massachusetts Maritime Academy. He studied briefly at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester before entering St. John’s Seminary. Archbishop Richard Cushing ordained him to the priesthood at Holy Cross Cathedral on Feb. 2, 1955.

During his priestly life he served in six archdiocesan parishes, the first was as an assistant at Holy Ghost, Whitman (1955-1958). From 1958 to 1964 he was assistant at St. Agnes, Reading and the following 10 years found him as assistant at St. Joseph, Lynn. Walter Mehm of Greenacres, Fla. a brother of Father Richard Mehm of Immaculate Conception, Malden recalls that “he was a great priest, and Dick and I loved serving Mass for him... for high Masses or funerals he would tip us for serving, I think it was a dime. On our return to class, we stopped at the local diner for hot chocolate and English muffins...Father Ronan’s tip covered it.”

From 1974 to 1978 he was associate at Most Precious Blood, Hyde Park. He became a more familiar face in archdiocesan parishes as he served as a master of ceremonies for the late Bishop Lawrence Riley who was the pastor at Most Precious Blood.

Named pastor of St. Theresa of Lisieux in Billerica in 1978 he stayed there for 14 years until he was named parochial vicar at Immaculate Conception. His former altar boy, Father Richard Mehm now that parish’s pastor said “When I arrived, he greeted me with a huge laugh and said it proves right the old line “be nice to your altar boys, one might be your pastor some day.”

At Billerica he shepherded the rapidly expanding parish with extraordinary kindness and attention to the folks who were “his people.” He was fundamentally a simple man, but he was also quite bright. According to reports from Billerica his homilies easily delivered with microphone were insightful and practical and always encouraging.

Father Ronan’s cousin, Father James Ronan, pastor of St. Mary-St. Catherine of Siena, Charlestown was the principal celebrant of his funeral Mass at Immaculate Conception Church, Malden on April 25. Retired auxiliary Bishop John Boles was the homilist and Central Regional Bishop Robert Hennessey was also present. Some 30 priests concelebrated the Mass.

Father Ronan was buried in St. Mary Cemetery, Salem and his survivors include his sister, Anne Kane, of Weston and brother, retired Superior Court Justice John of Salem.

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