Priest, journalist and friend: Msgr. Francis Henricksen leaves his mark

Father Francis Henricksen sits at his desk in this file photo.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

Msgr. Francis Henricksen, 95, the Diocese of Davenport’s longest serving priest and the editor of The Catholic Messenger for 35 years, died May 19 at Solon Care Center in Solon.

The celebration of his funeral Mass this Friday, May 24, will take place at St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Bettendorf, where he served as pastor from 1986 until his retirement from full-time parish ministry in 1999. He continued to serve as editor of The Catholic Messenger, where he began his journalism career in 1967 and retired in 2002.

“He had a profound impact on the whole diocese and the Church as a priest and as a journalist,” said Father Ed Fitzpatrick, a longtime friend. “He had many titles, official and unofficial. The one that was most important to him was priest and friend.”


Ordained June 4, 1955, Msgr. Henricksen would have celebrated 70 years in the priesthood next year. The Clinton native ministered in many roles — associate pastor and administrator, assistant hospital chaplain, part-time high school faculty member, pastor and managing editor/editor. He also served on many boards, councils and committees and as the first director of the diocesan Department of Communications.

Anne Marie Amacher
Msgr. Francis Henricksen places his hands on the head of Father Isaac Doucette during his ordination to the priesthood June 3, 2023 at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport.

Frank Wessling, retired news editor of The Catholic Messenger, recalls how he and then-Father Henricksen worked together from start to finish. They began their journalism posts within weeks of each other. “We were new to everything together: new town, new work, and new associates. He had no experience in the work — other than delivering the Clinton Herald as a boy, he’d say — and readily admitted that he had much to learn.”

“Over the nearly four decades we worked together, we settled into a relationship that allowed me to find and develop the news while he ran the financial side and supported me whenever tensions rose over something we did. Because Father Henricksen was a ‘people person,’ it was also easy to develop a warm personal relationship with him that grew over the years,” Wessling said. “He traveled with my family, we camped together; we sometimes partied together. He presided at baptisms and weddings. He babysat. Finding Frank Henricksen was a shower of blessing in my life.”

Diocesan Administrator Father Ken Kuntz was in college when he became acquainted with Father Henricksen, who served as assistant chaplain at Mercy Hospital in Davenport from 1967-71. “I would go to Mercy Hospital where he was a chaplain. He was a great presider liturgically and he was a great homilist,” Father Kuntz said. He described Father Henricksen as always up to date and knowledgeable on the developments in liturgy following the Second Vatican Council.

Father Kuntz remembers a homily that Father Henricksen delivered in which he described the body of Christ as a mosaic of the faithful. “I still remember that imagery he used.” However, Father Henricksen (he received the title “Monsignor” in 2001) could be a bit intimidating, Father Kuntz said. “He was not afraid to speak his mind.” Nevertheless, he also sent notes of encouragement or appreciation and Father Kuntz was one of the recipients on a couple of occasions.

“He embraced life to the full,” said Father Kuntz, an observation echoed by others who knew Msgr. Henricksen. “He was able to gather people together. It was important to him,” said Father Robert McAleer, a close friend. “I met him when I was a freshman at St. Ambrose. We kept a close friendship all these years.”

Celebration of the Eucharist was especially important to Msgr. Henricksen, who also valued gathering people together for liturgy and for social gatherings, Father McAleer said. “I followed Frank (as pastor) at St. John Vianney. He set a tone for a real Vatican II parish. I was able to step into that mold and just let it flourish.”

Father McAleer was among a group of priests who took annual summer canoe trips with Father Henricksen. On one trip, seven of the priests paddled into a restricted area of Lake Odessa near Wapello and the game warden ticketed them for the offense (Father McAleer wasn’t with them when that happened). The priests, who had to appear in court, nicknamed themselves the “Odessa 7,” and laughed about the experience for years to come.

Anne Marie Amacher
Msgr. Francis Henricksen, left, and Father Robert McAleer walk to the Sacred Heart Cathedral rectory following the 2023 Chrism Mass in Davenport.

Msgr. Henricksen was “very contemporary and forward looking in his theological outlooks,” said Father Dennis Martin, another close friend. “The one thing that stands out is his love for the Church.” He sought to ensure that the Church would meet the needs of the people of the time and remain up to date. He remained steadfast in his loyalty to the Church, Father Martin said.

Sister Johanna Rickl, president of the Congregation of the Humility of Mary in Davenport, described Msgr. Henricksen as “a long-time and loyal friend to the Sisters of the Humility of Mary. He shared his love of the Mass with us on a regular basis, celebrating the Mass for Peace each Wednesday for many years until his health no longer permitted it.”

“He was the presider at numerous CHM funerals and Jubilee Masses, too. Most of all, he was interested in the community happenings and cared about each sister. Many of them shared ministry with him at St. Mary Parish in Fairfield,” Sister Rickl said. “More recently, he was forever bringing boxes of chocolates to celebrate whatever festivity was in season. We will miss him and are grateful and confident that his advocacy will continue from the other side.”

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