Msgr. Henry B. Degnan, pastor of Aston church

Henry B. Degnan
Henry B. Degnan
Posted: February 02, 2013

Msgr. Henry B. Degnan, 91, retired pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Aston, who delivered wise counsel and one-liners along with the homily, died Monday, Jan. 28, of a heart attack at Mercy Suburban Hospital.

"It's heaven's gain," said the Rev. Joseph C. Dieckhaus of Exton, a friend and colleague.

Msgr. Degnan, known as "Harry," was born on Aug. 20, 1921, the Feast of St. Bernard, from which his middle name was derived.

Raised in Norristown, Msgr. Degnan attended St. Patrick School, but was expected to take public transportation to West Catholic High School for Boys.

He told a story about asking his mother how to get there. "I've given you the fare. What more do you need?" he quoted her as saying.

As a youth, he loved sports, especially baseball, and made many lifelong friends in the town. One was Tommy Lasorda, who later became manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

As an adult, the monsignor had "that common touch," Dieckhaus said. "Young or old, he was not uncomfortable with anyone, of any circumstance. And he always let you know what he thought."

Msgr. Degnan entered St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in 1940. He was ordained on May 22, 1948, by the Most Rev. J. Carroll McCormick, and was named monsignor, or Honorary Prelate of His Holiness John Paul II, on March 16, 2005.

After a brief assignment at St. Paul Parish in South Philadelphia, Msgr. Degnan worked for 11 years at St. James High School in Chester, where he taught languages and theology, and coached freshman baseball, football, and basketball. He then became prefect of studies - similar to a vice principal for academics - at Bishop McDevitt High School in Wyncote.

In 1961, Msgr. Degnan was appointed dean at St. Charles, a post he held until spring 1972.

His colleagues described him as one of the "more spirited figures" among the clergy.

"He was just a stable man with a sense of humor," Dieckhaus said. "He was fabulous with one-liners. Every so often he would begin a homily with, 'It's a beautiful day in Pennsylvania,' " a knockoff of Mr. Rogers.

But if you went to him for counsel, you'd better be ready for the unvarnished truth, Dieckhaus said. "He wouldn't hesitate to say what needed to be said."

In May 1972, he was appointed pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Delaware County, where he redecorated and updated the old church, added classrooms to the school, and built a gymnasium and multipurpose auditorium.

Parishioners asked that the building be named Degnan Hall in his honor. He retired in 1996 and went to live with his last assistant, the Rev. Harry E. McCreedy, pastor of St. Paul Parish in East Norriton.

"There for the last 17 years, Msgr. Degnan felt at home, back with old neighbors and friends from the Norristown area in which he grew up," McCreedy said.

Msgr. Degnan was preceded in death by a sister.

A viewing will be at 4 p.m. Friday, Feb. 1, at St. Joseph Church, 3255 Concord Rd., Aston, followed by a parish Mass at 7 p.m. A Funeral Mass will be said at 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 2, at St. Paul Church, 2007 New Hope St., East Norriton. Friends may call starting at 9 a.m. Interment will be in St. Patrick's Cemetery.

Donations may be made to Villa St. Joseph, 1436 Lansdowne Ave., Darby, Pa. 19023.


Contact Bonnie L. Cook at 215-854-2611 or bcook@phillynews.com.

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