Before he became known as Father Henry — a man who advocated for positive change as a longtime chaplain for the San Diego Police Department — he was Henry Rodriguez to his co-workers at Sharp HealthCare.
Rodriguez, who died in August at age 61 from pneumonia, worked at Sharp Memorial Hospital for a decade before he made the decision to enter the priesthood. He devoted his life to helping people and promoting social justice, which led to him becoming a notable leader in San Diego and the Catholic Church.
“He was such a joy to work with — a lot of fun,” says Vicki Pierce, BSN, RN, surgery navigator. “We would joke and tease each other all the time.”
Rodriguez was a teenager in the early 1970s when he began working as a medical assistant in the radiology department. After a few years, Nancy King, RN, who was the operating room head nurse at the time, hired him to be a medical assistant in the operating room (OR).
“He immediately fell into the groove with the staff,” says King, now a Staffing Resource Network (SRN) nursing supervisor. “He was nothing but a model employee.”
In the late 1970s Rodriguez started studying for a bachelor’s degree in sociology at the University of San Diego (USD). Even though he was a busy student, he found time to come back to work at Sharp Memorial during the summers.
“We would go bowling almost every Friday night after our shifts were over and Henry would come too,” says Rose Masumoto, surgery billing auditor. “It was fun — we played till the place closed.”
In the early 1980s, Rodriguez made a life-changing decision — he wanted to become a priest. He entered St. Francis Seminary at USD.
To further his education in the priesthood, Rodriguez went to Rome. Even though he was thousands of miles away, he still kept in touch with his Sharp family, even inviting the OR team to his ordainment in Rome in 1986. Marjorie Fasching, LVN, a retired Sharp Memorial nurse, cherishes her memories of the trip.
“I had a really good time; Henry took us to places in Rome that the average tourist wouldn’t get to see,” she says.
After returning to San Diego, Rodriguez was ordained for the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego. He was a pastor at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Parish in Chula Vista, then became associate pastor and eventually pastor at St. Jude Shrine of the West in South San Diego — the same church he attended as a child with his family. During this time, he volunteered as a chaplain for the San Diego Police Department, a position he held for almost three decades.
In the early 2000s, Rodriguez returned to Sharp Memorial to join the Professional Consultation Committee for the Clinical Pastoral Education Program. He also started serving as a chaplain for a local hospital and San Diego Hospice. Most recently, he became a pastor at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church.
As the years went by, Rodriguez never forgot about his friends at Sharp and they never forgot about him. He would find time to stop by the hospital, attend birthday and retirement parties, or have lunch with the OR staff.
“Ten years ago he baptized my grandson; we always found a way to stay connected,” says King.
He will always be remembered, both in the community and at Sharp.
“He has a long history with a lot of people here,” says Pierce. “To Henry, Sharp wasn’t just a place to work or a job; it was about the people and the relationships he had here.”