News and Events


Archdiocesan Priest, Rev. Donald J. Headley, Dies

Headley was a retired archdiocesan priest and pastor emeritus of Our Lady of Mercy Parish on Troy Street


Chicago (July 22, 2021) – Rev. Donald J. Headley, pastor emeritus of Our Lady of Mercy Parish on Troy Street, died Friday, July 16, 2021. He served as a priest for the archdiocese for 63 years and was 89 years old.

Headley was born on July 11, 1932, in Chicago. He attended Quigley Preparatory Seminary in Chicago and the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary in Mundelein.

Headley was ordained to the priesthood on April 13, 1958, by Cardinal Samuel Stritch, and celebrated his first solemn Mass on the day of his ordination at St. Basil Parish in Chicago.

After ordination, Headley served as assistant pastor at Old St. Patrick Parish on Adams Street and St. Theresa Parish in Palatine. He served as faculty member at Quigley Preparatory Seminary and director of the Cardinal's Committee for the Spanish Speaking; he was chaplain at the St. Joseph Carondelet Child Center, and was part of the San Miguelito Panama Mission from 1968 through 1980. Headley served also as associate pastor at Mater Christi Parish in North Riverside and St. Paul Parish on 22nd Place. He served as pastor at Our Lady of Mercy Parish on Troy Street from 1982 through 1997. The title of pastor emeritus of Our Lady of Mercy was bestowed on him in 2002.

Rev. Donald Nevins (class of ‘75), pastor at St. Agnes of Bohemia Parish, first knew Headley when he was a seminarian. At that time, Headley was a part of the San Miguelito Mission in Panama, and Nevins with one of his classmates accepted Headley’s invitation to visit the mission after they had finished their Spanish studies in Mexico. Headley had been a part of the team in Panama since 1968, and he was beloved in the many small communities he would visit on a regular basis, Nevins said. “I remember one of the first weeks we were there, in 1973, he invited us to go with him to visit a community and its school. We piled into his Volkswagen Beetle, drove on dirt roads to a river crossing, left the car there and walked across the small bridge to get us close to the community. The kids rushed him as he got closer, and we all sat with them, disrupting their class for a good half-hour. My time there with him was really formational for me,” Nevins recounted.

According to Nevins, “Fr. Don” was an extremely intelligent person who read theology, philosophy and literature like a college professor. Nevins added that Headley’s passion was to teach lay people, especially after the Second Vatican Council: He truly believed in the focus of Vatican II and did what he could in the archdiocese and other places to raise up the expectations of lay people in the Church to fulfill their call to leadership. “He truly was a gift to the archdiocese,” concluded Nevins.

“Fr. Headley enculturated himself more than most in Panama,” said Bishop John Manz (class of ’71), retired auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Bishop Manz witnessed it firsthand when he met Headley in 1969 at the San Miguelito Mission in Panama where he served for six months. “He came to love the Panamanian people, their language, customs, food, music, etc. Fr. Headley did this to a great degree and consequently was greatly loved by the people there.”

Bishop Manz added that Headley learned to converse flawlessly in Spanish and was a very passionate preacher.

Marco A. López, director of the Oscar Romero Scholars Program at Catholic Theological Union, recalled Headley as “an unwavering and ardent supporter of the Romero Program since its inception. He supported the program as a board member, a financial contributor, and personally supported scholars throughout the years in many ways. Fr. Don was a pioneer in Hispanic Ministry in Chicago and contributed enormously to the formation of hundreds and probably thousands of lay leaders and deacons in Chicago and Panama.”

Rev. Gary Graf, pastor at Ss. Paul, Agnes and Kieran Parish in Chicago Heights, will be the homilist at the funeral Mass for Headley. “Donald Headley set the bar for all priests to achieve in ministry,” Graf said. “He loved everyone he ever met. His life and the Gospel of Jesus Christ were perfectly compatible. He taught teachers, catechists, ministry leaders, priests and bishops how to live and serve as Jesus did. He did so in his every word and especially in how he lived and taught us how to live our lives.” Graf spent the summer of 1978 in San Miguelito as a seminarian while Headley was pastor of the archdiocesan mission in Panama at the time. Headley became Graf’s spiritual director, mentor and teacher.

Visitation hours will be from 3 to 7 p.m. on Friday, July 23, 2021, followed by the funeral Mass at 7 p.m. All funeral services will be held at St. Mary of the Woods Parish, 7033 N. Moselle Ave. Bishop Manz and Bishop Mark Bartosic will be the main celebrants. 

A reception will follow the funeral Mass while interment will take place at a later date.

Click this link for more information on Headley: