Dennis Clinton Graham Heiner


Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Thomas Farber, a Jew, said that he had expected to hear nothing but hate from the defendant but only heard love.

Every All Souls Day at the Sanctus I leave it to the Just Judge to choreograph those assembling around the altar from the Church Expectant and Triumphant. On the list now is Dennis Clinton Graham Heiner (1927-2008), who crossed 38th Street daily for Mass.

Outwardly, Dennis had a coddled childhood in New York City, and his parents sought the best for him, sending him to St. Bernard's School, whose establishment aura was complemented by his parents' devotion to the progressive principles of John Dewey. Robert Graham Heiner and Frances Eliot Cassidy were friends of Margaret Sanger and promoters of her eugenic theory. Their home resonated with the peaceful intercourse of curious savants from Planned Parenthood who met to discuss the annihilation of unfit people, blithe in their assumption that their sort was not threatened.

Dennis may have misrepresented himself to enlist in the Navy as a teenager, and so he served in World War II, if only at the tag end. From then it was Harvard and then Yale Law School. Mental exhaustion from the war – and growing interior conflict with his parents' view of creation, or the lack thereof – kept him from ever practicing law. Instead, he pursued medicine at the University of Paris, but never practiced that either. He had become a Catholic in contradiction of everything his parents understood to be rightly ordered, though he never broke with them in bonds of affection. That only increased his tense nature, and then he met a psychiatrist in the form of a stately Cuban woman, Helena Reina, who left all behind in the Marxist revolution of Castro. They were married for more than 50 years, and all the while I knew them he was her nurse, for she had become blind and nearly comatose. Even toward her end, whenever I brought her the Blessed Sacrament, he sat her under an oil portrait of herself in youth. Not once did I ever hear him speak of her as anything but a blessing, or of her infirmity as anything but a benison, and he seemed never so joyful as when he tried to make her drink through a straw.

I envied his quiet library of the Greek classics and modern apologists up to Ronald Knox, and so I was astonished when bookish Dennis was arrested on December 16, 1999, at the age of 72. The Brooklyn Museum had staged a "postmodern" exhibition called "Sensation," whose centerpiece was a painting of the Virgin Mary covered with elephant dung and pornographic symbols. Dennis had stepped over a barrier and smeared a tube of white paint over it. The incident won international attention and got the mayor involved, and all heaven broke loose. At his trial, he was his own defense and recited a list of the holy images of the Blessed Mother around the world, concluding by saying that he was "answering speech with speech."

The prosecutor demanded probation, community service, and "one day of 'sensitivity training,'" besides an order of protection forbidding him from entering the Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Thomas Farber, a Jew, said that he had expected to hear nothing but hate from the defendant but only heard love. He rejected the prosecutor's request and encouraged Dennis to visit any museum he wanted, albeit without a tube of paint.

He never came to weekly confession or daily communion without a pro-life pin in his lapel, and every Saturday he led the Rosary outside an abortion clinic. He was crossing the street to early Mass when a vehicle struck him and, though he told me he was steady, he died two days later. Months before, he had arranged Masses to be said for Helena, who had died the previous April, and his mother, who had never abjured her eugenics. Helena's Mass was the day before he was buried, and his mother's Mass was one hour after his funeral. A couple of years before his death, I informed him that the notorious painting had been destroyed in a London fire. He expressed no satisfaction, but in his silence one sensed that God's judgments are severe.




Father George William Rutler. "Dennis Clinton Graham Heiner." excerpt from Cloud of Witnesses: Dead People I Knew When They Were Alive (New York: Scepter Publishers Inc., 2010): 134-136.

This excerpt is reprinted with permission from Scepter Publishers Inc.

This article appeared first as one of the "Cloud of Witnesses" columns Father Rutler wrote for Crisis. It is included in his book, Cloud of Witnesses - Dead People I Knew When They Were Alive.


Father Rutler received priestly ordination in 1981. Born in 1945 and reared in the Episcopal tradition, Father Rutler was an Episcopal priest for nine years. He was received into the Catholic Church in 1979 and was sent to the North American College in Rome for seminary studies. Father Rutler graduated from Dartmouth, where he was a Rufus Choate Scholar, and took advanced degrees at the Johns Hopkins University and the General Theological Seminary. He holds several degrees from the Gregorian and Angelicum Universities in Rome, including the Pontifical Doctorate in Sacred Theology, and studied at the Institut Catholique in Paris. In England, in 1988, the University of Oxford awarded him the degree Master of Studies. From 1987 to 1989 he was regular preacher to the students, faculty, and townspeople of Oxford. Cardinal Egan appointed him Pastor of the Church of Our Saviour, effective September 17, 2001.

Since 1988 his weekly television program has been broadcast worldwide on EWTN. Father Rutler has published 17 books, including: Cloud of Witnesses - Dead People I Knew When They Were Alive, Coincidentally: Unserious Reflections on Trivial Connections, A Crisis of Saints: Essays on People and Principles, Brightest and Best, Saint John Vianney: The Cure D'Ars Today, Crisis in Culture, and Adam Danced: The Cross and the Seven Deadly Sins.

Copyright © 2010 Father George W. Rutler

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