Father Jack Hickey believed his role was to stand in compassion with men and women who struggle - not only with the pains and indignities of incarceration, but from all of life's ordeals. He was gifted in his ability to inspire others to "stand with those who struggle," and to build family-like communities that supported, and benefited from, every member. Founded in 1974 as a re-entry community for women and men, Dismas House of Nashville inspired the creation of Dismas Houses from the Southwest, to New England, to Northern Ireland.
Rev. John Daniel "Jack" Hickey was born May 6, 1935, in Fall River, Mass. He received degrees in the Northeast from Providence College (R.I.), St. Stephens, College (Dover, MA), and Catholic University (Washington, D.C.). In 1962 he was ordained as a Catholic priest of the Dominican Order. The South became his ministry, in those pivotal years after major Civil Rights laws had passed but not been put to action. From 1962 to 1972, he served as a chaplain at the University of Virginia (Charlottesville); University of Tennessee (Memphis); and Union College (Albany, NY). In 1972 he became Catholic chaplain at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
Father Hickey focused his work on two populations, and he built bridges between them: 1. university students, and 2. incarcerated men and women who were exiting prisons and jails and preparing to enter free society. Given that students and ex-prisoners both were searching for their respective places in the world, Father Hickey believed that they could live together in community - helping and learning from each other, with the support of a caring staff and community volunteers. Those founding beliefs guided Dismas House through its first four decades and served thousands of men, women, and families. They continue to inspire those who conduct Dismas House's unique work.
In the 1980s, Father Hickey confronted his own struggles with stomach cancer. From his hospital bed in Fall River, Mass. - only weeks before he died in January 1987 at age 51 - he wrote and tape-recorded his last sermon, "prais[ing] God for the wonderful gift that we are receiving through Dismas House." Father Jack was buried in Memphis, Tennessee. His memories continue to coax laughter and tears from those who knew him. People who never met Jack Hickey often feel they know him, too. His photo smiles down from the dining room wall of Dismas House, constantly reminding those who live and serve here that they need never struggle alone.