Saint Francis – History – Founded 1869
The first Mass, of which we have knowledge, was celebrated by a missionary priest traveling by horseback from Vincennes to Seymour. It was offered in the home of John Francis in 1835, on what was known as the Francis Farm, one mile west of Henryville. From time to time other missionary priests visited the home and administered the sacraments and celebrated the Eucharist for the few Catholic families in the area. Many of these were of Irish and German ancestry. Some traveled 10-12 miles on horseback or in jolt wagons pulled by oxen. Word would be sent by mail about the time of the expected visit of the priest, and messengers would carry the word to the scattered Catholic families. Father Bessonus and Father Louis Mayson were two of these missionary priests.
The first Church was built in 1869 on the same site of the current church building. It was known as a “Railroad Church” because of its location close to the stop of the train which was the major form of transportation at the time. . This first church was a small frame built of timbers cut and hauled by the Catholics of the parish. These same Catholics provided most of the labor for the constructions of the Church. The Rev. A.A. Schenk was the first Pastor of the parish.
During the early years of Catholicism in Henryville, the deceased were taken the cemetery at St. Mary’s of the Knobs which was 17 miles away. Later the cemetery at St. Joseph’s Hill was used until ground was purchased in 1882 for the cemetery at Henryville.
In 1886 Fr. John Hillebrand was appointed the first resident pastor. During his time many physical improvements were made to the church property. A parish house was built at a cost of $750. In 1888 he erected a twenty foot addition to the church providing room for a sacristy. The outside was painted. On the interior he added two new altars, a gallery for the choir, and purchased an organ. The total cost was $2,000. At the time there were 42 families consisting of 175 souls. After the departure of Fr. Hillebrand the church again became a mission. It was served from St. Mary’s, New Albany and St. Augustine’s in Jeffersonville.
The 1920’s and 30’s were an important time for the parish. From 1924 to 1934 Fr. William Jochum was pastor. Early in 1927 the Church and frame house were demolished to make room for a new Church. Many means were utilized to raise the necessary funds. A 100 acre farm donated by the Murphy family was raffled off. Picnics were held. Many people volunteered to do much of the work. The first service to be held in the new Church were the youth who were confirmed on June 15, 1928 at 2:30 in the afternoon.
In July of 1934 the parish again enjoyed the privilege of a resident pastor, Father Matthew Herold. He made his residence with the James Furnish Family of Henryville. He also served the parishes at Charlestown and Lexington. And in 1937 he founded the parish at Scottsburg, American Martyrs.
The last part of the 20th Century saw St. Francis sharing priest with a variety of its neighboring parishes. Since 1996 it has shared a priest with St. Michael, Charlestown. St. Francis is proud to have one of its sons serving as a priest, Fr. Maurice Hayes. In the past 10 years much work has been done on the building. It includes an elevator, new steps, a side porch, work on the roof and steeple, dry walling and painting of the interior ceiling, and the refurbishing of the kitchen and hall. The church looks to the future as the community continues to grow.