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Features

“I really wanted to support families'

Diocese of Joliet retiree receives honorary doctorate degree

Jim Healy is seen with David J. Livingston, president of Lewis University, Healy's wife, Madonna Wotjtaszek-Healy, and three of Healy's four children, Kevin, Daniel and Claire.
Jim Healy is seen with David J. Livingston, president of Lewis University, Healy's wife, Madonna Wotjtaszek-Healy, and three of Healy's four children, Kevin, Daniel and Claire.

Jim Healy, who already had a doctorate degree, never expected anyone would just hand him a second one.

But on Dec. 15, Lewis University in Romeoville presented Healy with the degree of Doctorate of Humanities, honoris causa.

“They did it out of the blue,” Healy said.

He's not exactly certain of the reason for the honor, but said, “They may have known about the different programs I did out of the diocese."

Healy, who was born in Decatur and raised in Joliet, retired as the director of the Office of Family Ministry of the Catholic Diocese of Joliet in September 2019, a position he held for more than 30 years.

Not bad for a man who “needed some time out” from the seminary at 22. Healy viewed his work in family ministry as a "calling," and a “funny combination of chance and decision-making.”

Healy said his role with diocese so absorbed him, he scarcely realized time had passed.

“I’ve been lucky enough to experience that in my work,” Healy said.

Healy was a high school student when he entered the seminary with the intention of becoming a priest. That intent was still present when he earned his bachelors in English and minor degrees in theology and philosophy at the College (now University) of St. Thomas in Minnesota.

But when Healy took that break from seminary at age 22, he began renovating apartments in Joliet. From there, Healy wound up at Mercy Boys Home in Chicago, working with troubled kids, which really resonated with him.

“I realized if I wanted to make a living out of this, I would need more education,” Healy said.

So Healy earned his Masters in the social sciences from the University of Chicago and his doctorate in counseling psychology from the University of Illinois.

Part of Healy's educational training included providing individual, couple, family and group therapy for several organizations. As he did, Healy's calling crystallized.

“I really wanted to support families,” Healy said. "They say the greatest gift a father can give to his children is to love their mother. And that the greatest gift a mother can give her children is to love their father ... saving marriages has been the core of my work.”

That’s not to say, Healy quickly added, that every marriage can, or should, be saved. It’s also not intended to downplay the heroic sacrifices single parents make to raise their children.

“I’ve also done my share of work with divorced and widowed people, too,” Healy said.

Through his work, Healy said he strove to make people understand their challenges as part of the mystery of Christ's suffering, death and resurrection.

“You can handle almost anything if you’ve got a 'why,' ” Healy said. “So I tried to bring the meaning of the Christian message to family life."

He also stressed to married couples that this process of "dying and rising" happens each time a change occurs in marriage when a child is born, during times of ill health, in old age.

To survive each new stage of marriage, one must "find other ways to be generous and giving," Healy said.

Through the years, Healy has presented on topics related to marriage and family to more than 90 dioceses and at national conferences throughout the U.S. He also has presented internationally.

Healy has been married to Madonna Wojtaszek-Healy, a consultant for Special Needs to the Joliet diocesan Office of Youth Formation, for 35 years. The couple has four children and one grandchild.

For information about the Healys, visit www.rootedinlove.org.

KNOW MORE

During his years of ministry, Jim Healy has:

• Served under three bishops and as an advisor to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Marriage and the Family.

• Created widely-used writings on marriage and contributed chapters to numerous books on marriage and family ministry,

• Created online content for the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops website and an electronic newsletter for newly married couples.

• Helped the Catholic Church respond to, as he wrote in a news release, “the scourge of sexual abuse” by selecting and leading the program “Protecting God’s Children” in the Diocese of Joliet. In the first year, "we trained 21,000 clergy, staff and volunteers how to recognize and prevent child sexual abuse.” Healy wrote.

• Served as the Region VII representative to the board of the National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers and its national chair for its Scholarship Committee. In 2000, Healy received the NACFLM Family Ministry Award.

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