Henni, John Martin
HENNI, JOHN MARTIN
Archbishop, editor; b. Misanenga, Grisons, Switzerland, June 13, 1805; d. Milwaukee, Wis., Sept. 7, 1881. He studied at Saint Gall and Lucerne, Switzerland, and Rome, and in 1829 went to the U.S. to complete his training at the Bardstown, Ky., seminary. He was ordained on Feb. 2, 1829, for the Cincinnati diocese, where he taught philosophy at the minor seminary of the Atheneum for a short time. After taking a census of Germans in Ohio, he rode the circuit out of Canton and earned the title "Apostle of the Germans." In 1834 he became vicar-general and pastor of the Germans in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Because of the cultural void, lack of clergy, and hostility confronting immigrants, he organized the teaching of English for adults, wrote a catechism in German for children, founded a newspaper and library, introduced better Church music, and planned for a bilingual seminary to train a native clergy. Before the Ohio legislature endeavored to assimilate immigrants into American society by permitting bilingual schools in 1838, Henni had inaugurated such a system in Cincinnati. He knew that the scarcity of bilingual teachers permitted them to demand a salary beyond the ability of most places to pay. The result was a compromise allowing each school district to conduct its public schools in either English or German, or both.
One of Henni's greatest benefactions was founding Der Wahrheitsfreund, a weekly paper (1837–1907) in Cincinnati, which opposed slavery, prohibition, and autocracy. In it he claimed that Prussian autocracy made the foot fit the shoe, while his "Creed of Nineteenth Century Citizen" was a classical expression of belief in equality and tolerance. Like many of his contemporaries, Henni believed that agriculture is the foundation of all the livelihoods of man and the principal support of the state. His contribution to German literature is not excelled by any German liberal in the U.S. In 1835 he was sent to Europe to secure financial aid for the diocese. While there he published Ein Blick in's Thal des Ohio (Munich 1836), which outlined the history of the Catholic Church in the U.S.
Ordinary of Milwaukee. Wisconsin became a diocese in 1843 with Milwaukee as headquarters and Henni
as bishop. In 1875 he became archbishop when Milwaukee was raised to metropolitan rank. His work there included attracting thousands of Catholic settlers, defending them against anti-Catholic groups, such as the Nativists, Know-Nothingists, and Forty-eighters, and providing them with priests, churches, schools, and institutions. He was opposed to settlement by colonization, because it was generally accompanied by regimentation, excessive land speculation, and restrictions upon industrial initiative and enterprise. Instead, he favored the American system of competitive entry, government land sale, and homesteading as being most conducive to industrial freedom and political liberty. Henni liked to point to the settlements of Catholic Irish and Germans along Lake Michigan and in the interior of Wisconsin as the ideal system of land entry and pattern of settlement. His refutation of a Whig charge that the Catholic hierarchy controlled the vote of alien Catholics appeared in print as Facts against Assertions (Milwaukee 1845) and revealed him as a remarkable apologist and historian. He was also successful in fashioning a pattern for successful missionary work with the natives at Wisconsin.
Leader in Education. Henni concerned himself with the recruitment of teaching orders and stimulated the founding of Marquette University and St. Francis Seminary (1856), both in Milwaukee. He considered the cooperative school ventures temporary expedients, justified only in districts where farmers would not or could not support a double school system. He felt that all attempts to harmonize the conflicting views of religious and secular education by omitting the catechism and employing English exclusively produced a sort of hybrid religion that soon deteriorated into paganism. District schools under the control of lay committees that, though Catholic, might change every year jeopardized the pastor's influence. A system of parochial schools conforming to the needs of the parish group seemed far better to Henni, even though it meant supporting a dual system of schools. His policy and program conformed to the legislation of American church councils. He left a tradition of excellence in the German Catholic parochial schools of Cincinnati that was commended by the Second Provincial Council of Cincinnati (1858).
Other Activities. Henni was well known to the European missionary aid societies. Father Joseph Ferdinand Mueller, business manager for the ludwig missionsverein, Munich, Germany, was a zealous advocate of Henni's requests to the society and was largely instrumental in settling the Norbertine Canons, Capuchins, Dominican Sisters of Racine, Sisters of St. Francis Assisi, and Notre Dame Sisters in Wisconsin. The Milwaukee Diocese became the largest beneficiary of the society. St. Francis Seminary ensured a supply of clergy not only for Wisconsin but also for the old Northwest and Middle West. Henni wrote that the life and development of the Church throughout that region depended on the seminary. In the school year 1868–69, 36 graduates were ordained for 12 dioceses.
To counter the press of the Forty-eighters, he started two weekly papers, Der Seebote (Milwaukee 1852) and Die Columbia (Milwaukee 1872). In addition, he sponsored the Catholic Vindicator (Monroe, Wis. 1870), the Star of Bethlehem (Milwaukee 1869), and merged them with the Catholic Citizen (Milwaukee 1870). His pastoral letters stressed history, divine Providence, and the Passion of Our Lord. Synods in 1847 and 1853 were called mainly to promulgate the conciliar decrees of Baltimore. Although against the inclusion of papal infallibility on the conciliar agenda of Vatican Council I, Henni finally voted for its definition. In 1880, when the Holy See honored Henni's request that Bp. Michael heiss of la crosse, Wis., be named as his coadjutor, the selection brought on a clash between Irish and Germans.
Bibliography: p. l. johnson, Crosier on the Frontier: Life of John Martin Henni (Madison 1959).
[p. l. johnson]