Father Elmer W. Heindl, a decorated World War II Army chaplain and the oldest priest of the Diocese of Rochester, died July 17, 2006, at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester. He was 96.
A native of Rochester, Father Heindl was born on Flag Day, June 14, 1910. He attended St. Andrew’s and St. Bernard’s seminaries in Rochester and was ordained June 6, 1936, by Cardinal Edward Mooney. He celebrated his first Mass the next day at Rochester’s Corpus Christi Parish, and less than two weeks later he became assistant pastor at St. Mary Parish in Dansville. He left Dansville in 1937 for an assignment as assistant pastor at St. Alphonsus Parish in Auburn, and in 1939 he left Auburn to take on the same position at St. Andrew Parish in Rochester.
In February 1942 he became a chaplain in the U.S. Army, and in July of that year shipped out to the Pacific Theater, where he witnessed heavy combat yet remained unscathed. He often risked his own life to minister to wounded or dying comrades, and he was awarded an honorary Purple Heart, a Silver Star and a Bronze Star. He was also one of only 19 World War II chaplains to earn a Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second-highest combat medal.
Father Heindl, who achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel, later received a Legion of Merit Medal, and in 2005 received the Distinguished Service Award of the Combat Infantrymen’s Association.
After his return to the United States in 1945, Father Heindl served as a chaplain at Rhodes General Hospital in Utica, N.Y., and Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland. He returned to his home diocese in 1948 to become assistant pastor at Rochster’s St. Mary Parish. In 1951 he moved to assistant pastor at Holy Trinity Parish in Webster, and in 1958 he became pastor at Scipio Center’s St. Bernard Parish as well as its mission parishes, St. Hilary in Genoa and St. Isaac Jogues Chapel in Fleming.
In 1960 Father Heindl became pastor of St. Theodore Parish in Gates, where he remained for a year before taking on the pastorates at St. Patrick Parish in Cato, St. Thomas Parish in Red Creek and St. Joseph Parish in Weedsport. In 1980, at the age of 70, he retired and took up residence at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Greece.
Father Heindl opted to live at St. Charles because many of his family members belonged to that parish, and it was important to him to remain close to his family, said Father Edward Palumbos, who was pastor at St. Charles from 1992-2001. Father Heindl kept in close contact not only with his family members, but also many veterans and people he’d met through his ministry. In fact, this communication was so important to him that he once set up his own toll-free phone number, Father Palumbos added.
“His friends from the military could call him at his expense so that they wouldn’t be out of touch,” Father Palumbos said, noting that while he lived at St. Charles, Father Heindl would often carry on phone conversations with friends around the globe until the early morning hours.
While he was at St. Charles, Father Heindl also was a member of the Monroe County Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 307 and the Freeman-Allen American Legion Post No. 1156, and was a fourth-degree Knight of Columbus.
In 1993, St. Charles opened an early childhood development center and named it Heindl House because the priest was so fond of children, said Father Palumbos, who is currently pastor of Church of the Assumption in Fairport. Children and adults alike felt comfortable with Father Heindl, he recalled, due in part to his easy, genuine smile that quickly put people at ease.
“He was a wonderful gentleman 96 years young, and he maintained his zest for life and enthusiasm for ministry right to the end,” Father Palumbos said. “His favorite saying was, ‘I’m just here to serve in any way I possibly can,’ and he meant that with all his heart.”
Father Heindl is survived by his brothers and sister-in-law, Frank, Robert and Elizabeth Heindl, as well as many nieces, nephews, grandnieces, grandnephews, cousins and friends. He was predeceased by his sisters, Helen Haughwout, Irene Frank and Eleanor Clemson.
Father Heindl’s funeral Mass was to be celebrated July 22 at St. Charles Borromeo Church, and interment was to be at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery with full military honors.
Contributions in Father Heindl’s memory may be made to St. Charles Borromeo Church, 3003 Dewey Ave., Rochester, NY 14616.