It was my first trip to the new city of Ave Maria, some thirty miles northeast of Naples, Florida.
I’d been to Ave Maria University when it was still housed in temporary buildings in Naples proper but had not seen, with my own eyes, the new campus, especially the stunning new oratory that dominates the landscape like a medieval cathedral in rural France.
The occasion for my visit was the dedication ceremony of the classroom building in the name of Paul M. Henkels. Paul, who passed away a little over a year ago, was a good friend of mine and as good of a man as I have ever known, or expect to know.
Paul had been chairman of the board of Ave Maria University for many years when he died.
Tom Monaghan, founder of AMU, opened the ceremony by reminding everyone present of Paul’s immense contribution to the Church. As Nick Healy, president of AMU, would say later, “It’s really impossible to catalogue all the ways that Paul, along with his wife, Barbara, have served the country and the Church.”
Monaghan, however, really caught what was distinctive in Paul’s character when he described the way he personally interviewed each individual faculty member at Ave Maria during several trying moments in the move of the university from Michigan to Florida. (It reminded me of the times Paul and Barbara had brought calm to my own apostolate by their board presence.)
Paul had a way of getting past people’s personal grievances and forging a consensus among quarreling parties. I think it had to do with his own humility — it’s hard to keep your own pride going in the face of that!
Monaghan also recalled, and feebly tried to imitate, the Henkel’s smile and famed utterance, “It’s exciting!” If space allowed I could recall many instances of this excitement from the board room, to the golf course, and the ski boat at his beloved home on the Chesapeake Bay.
“Such a wise man,” Tom Monaghan said in conclusion. Didn’t the Psalmist write something about wisdom bringing happiness? Paul Henkels exemplified that blessing.
Most of the Henkels’ clan were there, including Barbara Henkels, the ten children, in-laws, and many of the multitude of grandchildren.
Barbara summarized their view of Catholic philanthropy when she said, “Paul loved the Church and those who stood up for the truth in the spiritual works of mercy.”
Barbara spoke of the honor she and her family felt at the dedication. I’m sure Tom Monaghan, Nick Healy, and all those present were thinking what I thought at that moment: No, the honor has been ours.