Deeney, John H.Died
Fr. John H. Deeney, SJ, a Philadelphia native who had ministered in India since 1949, died of cancer January 18, 2010, in Jamshedpur, India. A Jesuit for 70 years, Fr. Deeney was 88.
A Mass of Christian burial was offered Jan. 22 at St. Xavier’s Church in Chaibasa, India, where he was seen as the “Apostle of the Hos.” Fr. Deeney became an expert on the language of the Ho people among whom he ministered and published books in their language, including a dictionary and a missal.
Born in Philadelphia July 22, 1921, he entered the Society Aug. 14, 1939. After earning a master’s degree in philosophy from Boston College, Fr. Deeney went to India in 1949 where he completed his studies before his ordination in Kurseong Nov. 21, 1952.
Among his assignments, Fr. Deeney was headmaster for seven years of St. Xavier’s High School. He remained in the region serving as assistant pastor at St. Xavier’s where he became deeply involved in the faith formation of the Ho people.
After learning the language of the Ho people of which there are nearly a million in India, he published his first book, a Ho-English dictionary, in 1978. During the next 20 years, he published a number of books including a Ho translation of the Missal and Lectionary for Sunday and feast day Masses, a book on the lives of the saints, a prayer book, Bible history, hymnal, and New Testament. He also published a book of the Psalms and major prophets of the Old Testament in Ho, as well as a book in English, The Spirit World of the Hos.
Fr. Deeney, who became an Indian citizen in 1991, continued his pastoral work while he worked on his many books, cycling to villages to get to know the people, offer Mass and help with faith formation. His work resulted in vibrant parishes in Bordor and Basahatu, two villages in Chaibasa.
“At the age of 88 I look back with contentment on God’s call to become a Jesuit and spend my life here in India, serving the Ho tribals, who have become my people,” he said in an interview published in October 2009 in JIVAN: News and Views of Jesuits in India.
Fr. Deeney is survived by his sister, Nancy T. Curtis of Springfield, Pa., and brothers Gerald P. Deeney of Savannah, Ga., and Ed Deeney of Philadelphia, and many nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by a sister Sister John Mary Deeney, IHM, and two brothers George C. Deeney and Joseph F. X. Deeney.