Most Reverend John Martin Henni, D.D.
1844 - 1881
John Martin Henni was born on June 15, 1805, in Misanenga, Switzerland. He was ordained a priest on February 2, 1829 in Bardstown, Kentucky. He began his priestly service in Ohio and served as an itinerant minister and pastor of predominantly German Catholics in the Ohio Valley region. Henni was chosen as the first bishop of the newly created Diocese of Milwaukee in 1843 and was consecrated bishop on March 19, 1844, in Cincinnati.
Henni worked tirelessly to build the new diocese and expand the Catholic following. He established many new parishes, the first parochial schools, Catholic hospitals, and Catholic orphanages. He also established Saint Francis Seminary out of his residence in 1845, and then established the Seminary in its current location on the south shore of Milwaukee in 1856. He worked to bring religious orders into the diocese, including the Daughters (Sisters) of Charity, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, the School Sisters of St. Francis, the Franciscan Sisters of Penance and Charity, the Jesuits, and the Capuchins. Bishop Henni and others wrote appeal letters describing life in the new diocese to the Ludwigs-Missionverein, a Bavarian society founded to support missionary activity in the United States. He established the first German-language newspaper in Milwaukee, and supported the English-language Catholic newspapers as well.
Due to the rapid growth of the Milwaukee diocese, in 1868, Henni asked Pope Pius IX to create two new dioceses, Green Bay and LaCrosse, out of the Milwaukee diocese. Pope Pius IX created the Province of Milwaukee and raised the Milwaukee diocese to the rank of archdiocese in 1875. Henni was appointed Archbishop of Milwaukee on February 12, 1875.
Henni was a German-speaking Swiss who desired to build a strong German Catholic community that preserved language and ethnic traditions, though he still welcomed English-speaking Catholics to develop their own parishes and institutions. He created controversy in 1878 when he requested that fellow German, Michael Heiss, be appointed as his coadjutor with right of succession. English-speaking Catholics protested, but Henni’s request was eventually granted.
Archbishop Henni died on September 7, 1881 in Milwaukee after 37 years of service.