Jesuit Father John Hanley, who once served at Brophy College Preparatory and Gerard Catholic High School and spent 15 years at Holy Spirit Parish in Tempe, died peacefully March 20. He was 88.

Fr. Hanley was born Dec. 9, 1925, in San Francisco and entered the Society of Jesus at 17. Ordained in 1956, he moved to Phoenix in 1962 where he spent four years teaching at Brophy and six years as an administrator.

Former students still admire his fairness, especially when it came to rule enforcement — even among teachers. He found ways to teach while coaching football and baseball too. Fr. Hanley was no stranger to the basketball court either, playing pickup games with students and other priests on the weekends.

Fr. John Hanley died peacefully March 20. He was 88.
Fr. John Hanley died peacefully March 20. He was 88.

Jim Manos, who graduated from Brophy in 1972, remembers Fr. Hanely making sure students of visiting schools also behaved appropriately.

“He had a way of looking at you that set you straight in a hurry,” said Manos.

The Jesuit priests on campus did as much by example as they did by words, Manos said. He recalled the time Fr. Hanley caught him with his head on his desk. When the priest learned Manos had nothing better to do — he was caught up on homework — the principal said he’d find something better. Manos answered the priest’s phone that afternoon since his assistant was absent.

“He made me realize I was worth more than just a target for punishment,” Manos said.

He also arbitrated an incident between Manos and a physical education teacher ensuring the student’s side was well represented. Other students learned from Fr. Hanley, too, including one who became Manos’ brother-in-law.

Two brothers decided to donate their letterman’s jackets for less-than-privileged peers and were instructed to leave them on the table. At first they felt bad that the priest didn’t make a bigger deal out of the gesture.

Manos said they later realized “You do good deeds because that is what our God wants us to do, not because it brings some glory to us.”

Jesuit Father Dan Kendall graduated from Brophy and returned to teach in 1964 while in the seminary.

“What always impressed me was how organized he was as a teacher, how fair he was in his coaching and how supportive he was of both students and fellow faculty,” Fr. Kendall said. “He expected his students to do well and usually they did not disappoint him.”

Fr. Hanley held administrative roles at Kingman High School in the 1970s and 1980s. He returned to the Valley to serve as principal of Gerard Catholic High School, then as parochial vicar at St. Theresa Parish in 1989. He became pastor of Holy Spirit Parish two years later where he served until his retirement in 2006 in Tempe.

Fr. Hanley requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Holy Spirit Church Capital Improvement Fund in his name. He also requested that one thing be part of his eulogy. It was something he asked longtime friend turned only surviving “family” member and caregiver Patty Chesebrough to pass along while on one of their weekly mountain hikes.

“I would want them to know how very much I cared for each of them,” Fr. Hanley told Chesebrough.

Encouraging others

That love was especially evident to the countless women who went through the “Tears Speak, but Spirits Soar” support group for those who suffered the loss of a child to abortion. Fr. Hanley encouraged Chesebrough to form the group.

The Jesuit priest fully embraced parish life too spending 15 years growing the parish near Guadalupe and McClintock roads. He led efforts to build the present church in 2001 following a quick Vision 2000 Building Program. The parish administration building opened two years later followed by a renovated community center the following year.

Linda Culbertson, who worked as his administrative assistant for 15 years, described staff meetings as open and collaborative. She said Fr. Hanley wasn’t above answering the phone or the door and performing light security.

Culbertson said he was strong-willed, but compassionate with a great sense of humor.

“He would belly laugh. It was really fun to make him laugh even up to the end,” Culbertson said.

She wishes Fr. Hanley had more retirement time. A stroke three weeks after he retired followed by other more debilitating ones gradually restricted his movement, but not his faith.

“He accepted and trusted God. Everything he suffered was grace-filled,” Chesebrough said. “He continued to witness and inspire everyone who saw him struggle.”