Joe is the son of Joseph Fredrick Hennessey and Christina Doolan Hennessey. Joe grew up on the District of Columbia side of Chevy Chase Circle, first on Nevada Avenue and then on Oliver Street. Joe attended Lafayette Elementary School and Alice Deal Jr. High School before enrolling at Gonzaga College High School. Joe graduated from Gonzaga in 1983 with consistent honors and was a recipient of the Barnes Award.
Joe's mom, Christina Doolan Hennessey, was born and raised in Chevy Chase (his grandfather proposed to his grandmother on the steps of Chevy Chase Elementary School) at 6305 Broad Branch Road. Chris attended Blessed Sacrament School, Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School, and then The Washington School for Secretaries. Joe's mom made enormous contributions to the local community as a volunteer at So Others Might Eat, Zacchaeus House and Kitchen, and The House of Ruth. Chris was also a enthusiastic participant in ecumenical program and was a frequent visitor to Temple Sinai on Military Road, NW. Out of respect for the Judaic roots of their Catholicism, the Hennessey Family gathered with other families to observe Passover through the preparation of a Seder meal and the recitation of the four questions of the Haggadah. Joe's mom died in 1985 of breast cancer at the age of 50.
Joe's father was born and raised in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, attended Boston Latin School and Harvard College before entering Officer Candidate School and serving on the USS Cogswell in the Sea of Japan. After leaving the service, Joseph Fredrick Hennessey attended Georgetown Law School and began a cutting-edge communication practice that fundamentally changed communications law. Through JFH's advocacy, black citizens of Jackson, Mississippi won control of a radio station that had been formerly owned by segregationists -- a development that was seen as a breakthrough in the civil rights struggle. JFH continued his cutting-edge FCC practice by representing The Dudley Station Corporation, a black-owned company, that successfully challenged RKO General Inc.'s ownership of WNAC-TV in Boston. JFH was appointed by Mayor Marion Barry to the Redevelopment Land Agency charged with revitalizing large sections of Washington, DC gutted by the riots of 1968. JFH's insistence on placing the Reeves Municipal Building on burnt-out section of 14th Street, NW proved instrumental in the revitalization of the entire 14th Street corridor. Joe's dad died of cancer on New Year's Eve 2004 at the age of 73. This obituary recounted some of his professional accomplishments.