Si Hendry feels at home in Detroit



It is often said that friends in high places can lead to great opportunities.

For Fr. Si Hendry, having friends has lead to a happy life in the city of Detroit.

Currently the director of UDM’s Catholic Studies Program and the superior of the Jesuit Community here, Fr. Hendry – or Si Hendry, as many know him – has settled into, and is enjoying, his life in Detroit.

"I’m amazingly happy and feel very comfortable here," said Hendry, who arrived on New Year’s Eve 2006. "It’s a great community. The university’s commitment to the city of Detroit is one of the things that drove me

It took many years, friends and different experiences for Hendry to wind up in Detroit.

Around 1952, Hendry moved from Manasquan, N.J., to Dunedin, a small town in Florida, with his mother, father and two younger brothers.

"It was odd at first leaving what I used to know for a whole new life, but it was a great town and I made many friends to whom I still speak today," he said, pausing to appreciate his childhood memories.

Dunedin lacked a high school, so Hendry traveled about 30 miles daily to Jesuit High School in Tampa, where in time he would become valedictorian and win awards for outstanding work in religion and English.

"I had numerous offers from colleges and universities because of my active life in high school in different clubs, sports and activities," he said.

 Ultimately, he chose Spring Hill in Alabama, and majored in physics and minored in English. "I loved college, and did well, but I was still not happy," he said.

While attending grad school for physical chemistry, he took a late-night walk that would lead him to becoming a Jesuit.

"I asked myself, ‘What do I need to be happy?’ and concluded three answers," said Hendry. "I had to be involved with God, be active in the lives of people and contribute to make society better."

For him, the answer was simple: Become a Jesuit priest.

His Jesuit training eventually led him to a position at Strake Jesuit in Houston.

"I taught math, religion, coached tennis, intramural sports and eventually taught psychics," said Hendry. "It was one of the greatest teaching experiences I’ve ever had and I made many friends."

He remains in touch with many of those friends, students and parents.

Through various jobs and positions, friends have played a supportive role in Hendry’s life, including his teaching at his old high school in Tampa, working for the Jesuit Volunteer Core as a board member and then director, and returning to school to for his dissertation.

Hendry said many jobs were difficult in their respective capacities. Yet, the experiences provided him with the knowledge to continue accepting new challenges.

"One of the greatest times of my life was when I was in grad school in Berkley writing my dissertation. I was participating in some type of event almost every day and when I wasn’t working my tail off, I was studying and reading," said Hendry, chuckling. "I learned a lot but through a lot of work."

It was in California that Hendry met two of the most influential people in his life, Don Gelpi and Robert Bellah. 

"They were great mentors and great people to learn from," said Hendry. "It was an amazingly rich time in grad school."

Yet, times would become tough in 2005. Hendry said it seemed as if everything were going against him that painful year.

"I was fired, my mother died and Hurricane Katrina happened" while he was serving at Loyola University in New Orleans, he said. "I called my dear two friends, Don Gelpi and John Staudenmaier."

From that conversation, Hendry said he was urged to leave Louisiana and get a fresh start. He was offered a position at the University of Detroit Mercy.

"I love being in Detroit. The faculty is smart and the students are hard-working people who engage in class," said Hendry. "I love teaching class and having conversations with students."

The respect seems mutual.

"He engages his class very well," said former student Alexander Tolksdorf. "The interaction he provides allows for a deeper level of learning."

Student Alexis Smith appreciates that Hendry’s love for the city comes through in his classes. "He helps to bridge the gap in the subject matter and the city," Smith said.

Added student Amy White, "His passion not only for the city but the people in it shines in his teachings."

Henry admits he has embraced Detroit.

"I cannot tell enough about what I like about the community, school and city of Detroit," said Hendry.

But, he noted, "I still need to get to know Detroit better."