Persons, places and things: A lasting impression for The Catholic Messenger


By Barb Arland-Fye


On June 27, 2002, we published an article titled “The end of an era at The Catholic Messenger.” The article, which I wrote as the new managing editor of our diocesan newspaper, paid tribute to Msgr. Francis Henricksen and Frank Wessling, who were retiring from their leadership roles after 35 years together at the Messenger.

Twenty-two years later, following the death of Msgr. Henricksen on May 19, I decided to re-read that article. Msgr. Henricksen and Wessling led the Messenger through tumultuous change in the Catholic Church in the years after the Second Vatican Council and received accolades and criticism for their efforts to help Catholics understand Vatican II’s impact.

Msgr. Henricksen and Wessling “steered the Messenger through the whitecaps, the tossing and turning waves of change — sometimes at personal cost,” I wrote. “In their pursuit of excellence, they did not shy away from criticism aimed at the paper, the diocese or even the presiding bishop. They caught flack for their diligence, but also admiration from lay and clergy alike.”


Bishop William Franklin, who led the Diocese of Davenport at that time, thanked the two men for their dedicated service to publishing the Messenger, whose reputation for high quality Catholic journalism extended far beyond diocesan borders. “They truly were messengers of the Lord and His Gospel in their printed work,” Bishop Franklin said.

Following in their footsteps seemed a bit daunting but I reminded myself that I already had 21 years in secular journalism and a commitment to growing in my Catholic faith. I hoped those two assets would allow me to build on their legacy, with the assistance of our staff. High quality, credible Catholic journalism is a team effort! Thanks be to God for current staffers Anne Marie Amacher, Barb Burken, Tony Forlini, Phil Hart and Lindsay Steele.

Anne Marie and I are the longest-serving members of our team. She began her career with the Messenger in 1998 and serves as assistant editor. I like to think that our working relationship creates the synergy that Msgr. Henricksen and Wessling developed in their nearly 40 years together as leaders of the Messenger.

I asked Anne Marie to share her Messenger “backstory” that began nearly 26 years ago:

“In late summer 1998, I sent in a resume to The Catholic Messenger because I was moving back to the Quad Cities to get married and be closer to family. The day before Labor Day weekend, a letter arrived in my mailbox in Dyersville, Iowa, as the final items were loaded into the truck for my move. The letter was from Father Francis Henricksen wanting to set up an interview. Two weeks after the interview, I received a call back from Father Henricksen. He wanted to verify the wedding date, length of the honeymoon and minor details. After talking with the board of directors, he offered me the job, with a starting date in late October.”

“I was amazed at how he could be pastor of huge St. John Vianney Parish without a parochial vicar, run The Catholic Messenger, hear weekly confessions from the Carmelite Sisters and serve on many committees/boards for the diocese. He took it all in stride and had his rhythm. Even in retirement, he assisted the Benedictine Sisters in Rock Island, Illinois, for years and kept busy with plenty of other commitments.”

“One of the things Father Henricksen asked during the interview was for a long-term commitment to the Messenger. After this year’s Chrism Mass, I asked Father whether 25 years was long-term in his book. He laughed.”

(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at

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