Fr. John Child loved being a priest, serving in his Dearborn community

Fr. John (Jack) Child, 91, longtime pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Dearborn, was known for his thoughtful care of his parishioners. Fr. Child died Oct. 10. (Archdiocese of Detroit photo)

DETROIT ─ Whether it was ministering to young couples, United States Sailors or just having Sunday dinner with parishioners, Fr. John (Jack) Child was a humble priest with a servant’s heart.

Known by parishioners for always making time to meet with them, the longtime pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Dearborn and senior priest passed away Oct. 10. He was 91.

John Child was born to Douglas and Margaret Child in Pontiac on Oct. 21, 1929.

Upon completing undergraduate studies at the University of Detroit in 1950, he earned a bachelor’s in philosophy from Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit in 1955 and a master’s in theology from St. John’s Provincial Seminary in Plymouth in 1959.

Fr. Child was ordained by then-Archbishop John F. Dearden on June 6, 1959, at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit.

After completing associate pastor assignment at St. Gertrude Parish in St. Clair Shores (1964-68) and Our Lady of Loretto in Redford Township (1968-69), Fr. Child became a chaplain for the United States Navy, an assignment he carried in his heart well after his time in the service.

Fr. Child returned to the States to become pastor of Sacred Heart in Dearborn in 1973, where he made an impact by always be available for parishioners, encouraging participation in the parish council and making prudent decisions in the long-term interests of the parish.

Dr. Marty Barber practiced internal medicine and gastroenterology and was a Sacred Heart parishioner who frequently hosted Fr. Child for Sunday dinners.

“He would come and talk with me and my family a lot, and we stayed close friends,” Dr. Barber told Detroit Catholic. “He was very humble, kind, very warm priest. He was never, ever 'stand-offish.' He would always speak frankly about the problems and needs of the parish, but he was also very kind and understanding.”

Dr. Barber got to know Fr. Child especially well when he served six years on Sacred Heart’s parish council.

“He would listen well, and I got to know him and how he ran the parish,” Dr. Barber said. “We had to close the high school at that time, and that was very difficult. But he did it with not too much weeping and gnashing of teeth. He did it very calmly, knowing this was in the best interest of the parish, and many people respected how he explained things and his long-term thinking.”

Before his time at Sacred Heart, and even before his time in the Navy, Fr. Child was assigned to be the moderator of the Catholic Family Movement out of St. Norbert Parish in Inkster, where he came into contact with Sacred Heart parishioner Peggy Core, before she and her husband joined Sacred Heart.

“The program was for young married couples with young children, and he was the moderator for it,” Core said. “He did spiritual readings, getting together in a group in someone’s home for prayer. At the end of the session, there was this Catholic action we’d work on for the month.”

When Core and her husband moved to Dearborn and became members of Sacred Heart Parish, Fr. Child was there, including giving her daughter first Communion.

“He was a priest because he wanted to be a priest,” Core said. “He loved what he did. He was ministering to the people and was always there for them. He loved doing his priestly duties.”

Fr. Child later completed pastoral assignments at St. Alfred Parish in Taylor (1984-87), Our Lady Star of the Sea in Grosse Pointe (1987-91) and St. Martha in Dearborn Heights (1991-2000) before being granted senior priest status in 2000.

Fr. Child also was an administrator at St. Sebastian Parish in Dearborn Heights in 2003 and St. Joseph Parish in Dearborn in 2006. During that time, he lived in Dearborn in his mother’s old home or as a resident priest at Sacred Heart before moving to the Senior Clergy Village in Livonia in 2013.

In “retirement,” Fr. Child continued to serve Mass at Sacred Heart on the weekends. During COVID-19, Fr. Child made a point of calling senior parishioners, checking up on them.

Fran Helner worked at Sacred Heart when Fr. Child was a senior priest , getting to know him by bringing him meals when he lived at the Senior Clergy Village.

“I always laughed because his oven was always clean because I was the only one who ever used it,” Helner said. “I was the only one who cooked in his kitchen, but we’d enjoy a meal together every once in a while.”

Fr. Child made himself available as often as he could at Sacred Heart, but the COVID-19 pandemic limited his exposure to the community. Still, he found another way to serve.

“When the pandemic hit, he couldn’t come in for Mass, so he’d call all the seniors in the parish, making that his mission,” Helner said. “His ministry was to check up on the older parishioners, making sure they were all OK.”

Fr. Child was laid in state at Sacred Heart Parish before his funeral Oct. 15 at the parish. He was buried at Mount Kelly Cemetery.

He was predeceased by his parents and survived by many nieces and nephews.


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