By Mike Costanza
Sister Marjory Henninger
Founder of Grace of God Recovery House
ister Marjory Henninger has donned a nun’s veil, taught children their ABC’s, helped local men throw off drug and alcohol addiction, fought against injustice, and been put out of her order. Through it all, her energy, enthusiasm and good humor never seem to have flagged. Nowadays, she’s known as “Sister Margie.” Q. You co-founded and head the Grace of God Recovery House, a nonprofit facility that Spiritus Christi Church operates in Rochester. Can you tell us about your facility? A. This is a place for men recovering from drug and alcohol abuse who have no place to go in between treatment and a halfway house…or an apartment. They don’t get thrown back into the streets or back into a home situation where people are using and drinking, and then after all that rehab fall through the cracks again. They live here and work the program here. Q. What kinds of services does Grace of God provide for these men? A. We do groups with the men, and each man that comes in [and] gets a primary staff person that is their goto person—another person that’s in program. They’re in either AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] or NA [Narcotics Anonymous] but they’re people who have much more time — seasoned people, so to speak. We [also] do meals together… groups together…one on ones. We work with them in continuing their outpatient program, making sure that’s in place and working with the other halfway house that they’re going to. Q. Born in Rochester and raised in Chili, you have spent much of your 50
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adult life working with those in need. Why? A. My mother — we lived near the railroad tracks — used to feed the transient people that got off the trains. When the need arose, she responded to it. I feel like that’s what I do — when the need arises, I respond. I also grew up in an alcoholic family, so my call had developed over the years. Q. You were born Irene Henninger, and took the name “Marjory” when you joined the Sisters of St. Joseph of Rochester in 1960. Why did you become a Catholic nun? A. I always had a little religious bent to me. When I was a little girl, I would make May shrines in my bedroom, and go out and pick violets and put them in there. We also had retreats in high school that I loved — we’d have a week of retreat before Easter — so I was always attracted to some parts of that. I guess when I got through high school and saw the Sisters of St. Joseph…I just decided, “Yeah.” And, I wanted to be a teacher, so it kind of connected. Q. After teaching in two Catholic schools and working as the principal of a third, you became pastoral assistant at Corpus Christi Church, a Roman Catholic church that is part of Diocese of Rochester. Father James Callan, with whom you’d worked before, was in charge of the parish. How were conditions in the parish at that time? A. Corpus Christi was going downhill. It was just the two of us — there was nobody else on the staff — so we just kind of did the next thing that came along. There was no money, so we just lived out of donations that we had in an envelope in Father Jim’s office. The diocese wasn’t worried
about us, because they were going to close it (Corpus Christi). We had free rein...it was wonderful. Q. In 1998, the Roman Catholic Church fired the leadership of Corpus Christi. As a group, you decided to found Spiritus Christi, a church more in line with the values that all of you, and a large part of your congregation, found important. In 2002, the Sisters of St. Joseph decided to ask you to leave. Why did the order do so? A. They said I was giving grave scandal, because I was preaching and participating in this church. Their whole move with me was to try to get me to leave Spiritus Christi. I just kept saying “My vocation has not changed, my call from God has not changed, so do what you’ve got to do.” Q. You’ve beaten ovarian cancer, had a tumor removed from your pituitary gland, and recently underwent knee replacement surgery. What is in your future? A. I don’t know how long I’m going to be here [at Grace of God]. I know that no matter what I’m doing, I’m going to be happy. I don’t know if I’ll be visiting the sick. I don’t know if I’ll be going back to the street. I was a sister of St. Joseph, now I’m a sister of Spiritus Christi, because nothing has changed for me. To donate to the Grace of God Recovery House, contact Sister Margie at irhenn@ aol.com. Writer Mike Costanza, who conducted this interview, is a member of Spiritus Christi Church.