BROTHER REX (CHARLES) HENNEL, C.S.C. (1918-2008)

PRISONER OF WWII

Brother Rex was born in Evansville, IN and graduated from Reitz Memorial High School.  He joined the Congregation of Holy Cross as a Brother in 1938 and graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a BA in 1941.

He was selected to join a group of 20 Holy Cross missionaries to work in India (East Bengal).  They all sailed from San Francisco and arrived in the Philippines.  But World War II had broken out, and the Japanese invaded the Philippines and all Holy Cross Missionaries were placed in an internment camp for the next four years.  In his memoire of that time, “Our Expedition to Manila,” written in 1951, he states that “I had my first experience of eating trees at this time. To supplement our diet, we began the practice of cutting down papaya trees, skinning them, and boiling them.  The pulp was rather soft, and three hours of boiling made it possible to chew the pulp sufficiently to swallow.  While the results were neither tasty or nourishing, they did at least fill up the empty space in our stomachs.” Upon his return to the States he writes that “It seemed strange to be home. No lines to stand in.  Parents of boys who were serving in the Philippines came for news of their boys.  Most of them I could not help.  One mother called to ask about arranging for having the grave of her son cared for.  He was killed in India and buried near Dacca.  As the time passed, I realized more and more what had brought us back. It was the prayers of our community, our families and our friends.  God had heeded their pleas: we could truly say, ‘Blessed be God’.”

Until 1957 Brother Rex worked in high schools in Chicago and Biloxi, Mississippi.  When Holy Cross returned to Africa, Rex was the first superior and headmaster of the new school in Sekondi, Ghana, St. John’s.  In 1963 he was appointed the headmaster of Gilmour Academy in Gates Mills, OH, and in 1967 was appointed the assistant provincial of the Midwest Province of Brothers.  He returned to Ghana in 1975 to serve as the Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Cape Coast.  When he returned to Notre Dame, he spent fifteen years working for the Holy Cross Mission Center and serving on the provincial office staff.  He was a mentor to all he met—the “definition of compassion.”  His former students at Biloxi honored him saying, “Because of you, many of us are different—more Christian, more human.”

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