By Lou Baldwin

Special to The CS&T

Paul M. Henkels, 84, one of the founding proponents of school choice in Pennsylvania, died on Thursday, Jan. 8, after a long battle with cancer. A co-founder and chairman of the REACH Alliance and REACH Foundation, Henkels worked tirelessly to help improve the educational opportunities available to students across the Commonwealth. His passion and leadership were the driving force behind the passage and enactment of the Pennsylvania Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program.

“I offer my prayerful solidarity to Paul’s wife, Barbara, and their children and families at this time of loss,” Cardinal Justin Rigali said.

“Paul was a tireless promoter of Catholic education and of the right of parents to choose the school in which their child would be educated. His support of the mission of the Church in Philadelphia was marked by a generosity and constancy that enriched the Archdiocese.”

In his acceptance speech at the 2007 REACH (Road to Educational Achievement through Choice) Champions of Choice Awards dinner, Henkels stated: “Education is our nation’s number one crisis and school choice is the solution. In this age, an education is essential to a productive and fulfilling life … School choice is allowing many disadvantaged children all across Pennsylvania to have a chance at getting a good education.”

“Paul was this organization’s heart and soul,” said Andrew T. LeFevre, executive director of the REACH Alliance and the REACH Foundation. “I know I speak for everyone involved with REACH when I say he was one of a kind and that we will miss his leadership and guidance.”

Born and raised in Germantown, where his family lived on Church Lane and were members of Immaculate Conception Parish, he was educated at Norwood Academy and Germantown Academy. After service with the U.S. Army Signal Corps in France during World War II, and graduation from Haverford College, he joined Henkels & McCoy, the company founded in 1923 by his father, John Henkels. He married the former Barbara Brass 51 years ago; they lived in Elkhart, Ind., briefly before settling in Plymouth Meeting.

In a statement issued on behalf of the family, the Henkels children said, “As a young student at Norwood Academy in Chestnut Hill, our father asked a nun what perseverance meant. To her answer he thought, ‘That’s me!’ He told this story often because he fiercely believed in the importance of thinking beyond one’s self. He married our mother on Jan. 4, 1958, and for 51 years they made a life together raising 10 children, teaching their Catholic faith around the dinner table and living it in the world. He said of his business, ‘We bring light, heat and communications to people. How we do it is important.’ He could have said that of his life as well.”

Henkels became an acknowledged expert in labor relations and ethics, and under his leadership Henkels & McCoy grew to be a 5,000-employee engineering, construction and maintenance firm with national standing. At the time of his death he held the position of company chairman.

Archbishop Emeritus of Philadelphia, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, said, “Paul was a friend for whom I had a great affection and admiration. He accepted his suffering and, throughout it, remained truly faithful to God’s Providence.

“Paul loved the Church and was a faithfully committed Catholic, an exemplary husband, father and grandfather,” Cardinal Bevilacqua added. “He was a Steward of St. Peter of the Papal Foundation and was extremely generous to various other Catholic causes. He was devoted to the University of Notre Dame.

“He, together with his wife, was a staunch supporter of Catholic education and was a major advocate of two private Catholic academies: Regina Coeli and Regina Angelorum.”

Cardinal Bevilacqua remembered Henkels as a lover of classical music and noted that he had endowed the first flute chair of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Over the years Henkels served on the boards of Ave Maria University, Louvain University, St. Joseph’s University, Temple University and Chestnut Hill College, among others. A well-rounded man, in addition to classical music he enjoyed golf and Shakespeare. He was also a member of the Knights of Malta, Legatus, the Catholic Philopatrian Literary Association and the American Catholic Historical Society, among other Catholic groups.

A viewing for Henkels was held on Tuesday, Jan. 13 at St. Philip Neri Church in Lafayette Hill, where he worshipped.

“He was a strong Catholic, a great supporter of the parish, especially of our recent capital campaign,” said Msgr. Chares P. Vance, pastor of St. Philip.

As The Catholic Standard & Times went to press, Henkel’s funeral Mass was scheduled to be held Wednesday, Jan. 14 at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul with Auxiliary Bishop Joseph P. McFadden as the principal celebrant.

“Paul was certainly one of the greatest gifts to parents in terms of supporting their positive right to educate their child in the best way they feel possible,” Bishop McFadden said. “Certainly the many initiatives of the REACH Foundation are monuments that will stand to Paul’s dedication to the principle of parental rights.”

More visible monuments are the prominent signs outside many schools in the Archdiocese which state how many millions of dollars each institution is saving Pennsylvania taxpayers. The signs were conceived and paid for by Henkels.

“He felt very strongly that Catholic schools do a very poor job in proclaiming the value of their contribution to society,” commented Bishop McFadden. “Society thinks in terms of dollars and cents.”

“Paul Henkels was a friend and a colleague – but more importantly, he was an inspiration. His tireless advocacy for Catholic education literally changed the lives of thousands of students who would not have had an opportunity to attend a Catholic school without the foundation that Paul laid,” commented Dr. Richard McCarron, archdiocesan secretary for Catholic Education.

Henkels is survived by his wife Barbara, and his daughters Marin, Amy Healey, Angela Dale, Carol Lilley and Barbara Gorman; sons Paul, Christopher, Andrew, T. Roderick and Timothy; a brother; two sisters, and grandchildren.

Interment was to be at Calvary Cemetery, West Conshohocken.

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.