Tips and Programs
In Memoriam: Joe Healey
Wednesday, March 1, 2000 storytelling lost an important voice: Joe
Healy. Joe was born into a large, Irish Catholic family, and, like
one of his brothers, eventually entered the priesthood, taking orders
with the Fathers of the Holy Spirit. At Duquesne University in Pittsburgh
he served as a chaplain at the campus chapel where his influence soon
reached far beyond the campus bounds, pulling in whole families from
surrounding communities. Embracing the new influences sweeping the
church in the 1960s, Joe took an unconventional approach to worship,
incorporating folk music and new liturgies, inviting children and
families to take an active role in services. He began weaving stories
into his sermons to illustrate his main points. Over time he realized
that his congregation remembered the stories but forgot the sermon
points, and so he began to tell more stories and fewer sermons, developing
and polishing his tales.
Growing theological disputes with his order led Joe to leave the
priesthood in the early 1970s. He moved on to direct Theos, an organization
dedicated to ministering to the grieving. Once again, Joe found himself
falling back upon story, using storytelling to help people confront
their grief over a lost loved one and begin to heal. Such a ministry
is often draining, however, and after a few years Joe resigned.
For his third career, Joe embraced the stories that he had so often
used in the service of other work, and became a professional storyteller.
He joined NAPPS (now the National Storytellers Network) and the Network
of Biblical Storytellers, and help found the Pennsylvania Speakers
Association. He became an active member of the Pittsburgh storytelling
community, a member of both Storytellers Unlimited and StorySwap,
serving as StorySwaps first Vice President. He told his stories
most regularly in local preschools and Head Start programs, schools
and adult day care centers. Children throughout his community of Wilkinsburg
knew him as Mister Joe and the Storyman and would call out to him
as they passed in the streets. Eventually some of them were bringing
their own children to schools and centers and introducing them to
the wonders of Mister Joes stories. When a pair of local teachers
started up the Heartwood Bus, a program to tell stories on the school
bus as a way of introducing students to important values, Joe was
the first teller to volunteer for the project and remained one of
the core tellers ever after. Joe led storytelling workshops at conferences
throughout the region, drawing on his earlier work to design exercises
to use storytelling to soothe the grieving.
When NAPPS first promoted Tellabration as a national event, Joe was
intrigued. He contacted NAPPS for more information, then set off to
bring Tellabration to Pittsburgh. He contacted the local storytelling
and folk music groups in search of sponsoring organizations, production
team volunteers, and interested tellers. As Producer, Joe designed
and organized a hughly successful event. Joe stayed on to produce
two more Tellabrations (and to perform at every Pittsburgh Tellabration
since.) By the time he turned the job over to someone else, he had
drawn up extensive production notes and time tables, all of which
soon became the basis for the Producers manual now supplied
to first time Tellabration teams.
Most of all, however, Joe was deeply loveda comforting presence,
always ready with a word of support or inspiration, with a tale for
any occasion. He prefered to tell short folk tales, and his stories
usually carried some moral. Not an overt, "this story is good
for you" sort of moral, but something to think about afterwards.
Joe was the guiding grandfather to a generation of storytellers.
On March 1, Joe was sitting in a restaurant with his regular morning coffee when a deranged gunman walked in and shot him. His death shook his entire community. At the funeral home, his family set out the worksheets and exercises from Joes workshops on storytelling and grief, so that people could take them home and use their stories of Mr. Joe to help ease the pain. Joe himself designed much of his funeral service, writing out the homily and the stories to tell. Fittingly enough, in our time of grief, it was Joe himself who ministered to us one last time
published in WIP Winter 2000
Why I Hate Lady Ragnell Alan Irvine's article and the rebuttal it engendered.