Father Henry Joseph “Joe” Johnson
February 17, 1932 – December 12, 2019
Father Joe passed away from pneumonia at age 87 on December 12, 2019. His health had been declining for the last five years due to progressive neurologic problems that affected his memory and ability to walk. During that time, he lived and felt very much at home under the care of the nuns at Marycrest Manor in Culver City, California.
Father Joe was born in Southern California and grew up near Pasadena. His father worked for the Pacific Electric railroad and enjoyed good health well into his 90s. Father Joe held both his parents in high regard, always speaking of them in reverent terms in regard to their character and demeanor. Father Joe’s interest in pursuing the priesthood was inspired by his uncle who was also a priest.
Father Joe taught chemistry for a few years, was an excellent mathematician, and read Greek and Latin. Even though Father Joe was intellectually gifted, I never sensed in him even the slightest whiff of arrogance. He probably coined the following aphorism during his chemistry years: “Pride is like carbon monoxide, invisible, odorless, and completely deadly.”
He studied for a BA in chemistry at Loyola Marymount University while he was in residence at a parish in Beverly Hills. After graduating he taught chemistry at Our Lady Queen of Angeles Minor Seminary for ten years. Subsequently, starting in the early 1980s, he worked as a parish priest at St. Patrick’s in North Hollywood for about six years. After which he worked at St. Cyril’s in Encino, California.
I first met Father Joe in the office of Dr. Robert Leibowitz in the San Fernando Valley, where I was working in the early 1990s. These were the early years when the internet was only used by academic institutions and Father Joe was helping the office do online searches. After Father Joe left Dr. Leibowitz’s practice, I invited him to join Dr. Strum and me at Prostate Oncology Specialists.
He retired from fulltime parish work in the 1990s. After which I had the privilege of seeing Father Joe almost daily for 20 years as he volunteered in our medical office. For a number of years, Father Joe lived on a boat in the marina and every morning he would walk across the street to our medical office to encourage our staff and visit with the men and their families who were fighting prostate cancer. During his time at Prostate Oncology Specialists, he wasn’t only a blessing to patients, but his intelligence was also a blessing to the staff: when our office encountered a growing demand for statistical assistance for clinical research, Father Joe taught himself medical statistics and bailed us out.
He was greatly beloved at the practice—his listening ear combined with his background in chemistry, along with his interest in prostate cancer, provided a gentle and comforting presence to counterbalance the intensity of a busy medical office. New patients were often confused by the sight of a Catholic priest wandering down the halls of their new oncology office, but they were quickly put at ease by his gentle and warm persona. Father Joe truly loved people and all those in his presence could sense it. He was a great source of comfort and hope for many men and families facing difficult times.
Over the last five years of his life, even with his personal struggles, Father Joe continued to be a blessing and an encouragement to the people who he lived with at Marycrest Manor. Father Joe and I were witness to a miracle at Marycrest. Together we watched as the nuns overcame the tremendous challenges they faced when caring for the lonely, the disabled, and the dying. We had the pleasure to discover that Marycrest, located on a hilltop in Culver City, is a beacon of light and unequivocal evidence of God’s gracious ability to redeem potentially hopeless circumstances.
We are saddened by the loss of our dear friend but look to practice the love, hope, and selflessness that Father Joe embodied.
A Mass and burial arrangement will be held at 11:00 AM on Saturday, January 11, 2020 at Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery in Culver City, California.