Father Albert Joseph Henkel, who died Dec. 26, 1996 of a heart attack, was hailed at his funeral and memorial Masses
as a "priests' priest and a people's priest."
Father Henkel was a tough, uncompromising priest of the old school who staunchly defended the Church's basic teachings.
At the same time he was a charismatic priest whose compassion for the poor and the outcasts of society, his devotion
to his vocation, his deep and abiding love of his parishioners and his Church, and his keen wit and sense of humor endeared
him to generations of parishioners at Knoxville's Holy Ghost Church where he was pastor for 38 years.
Crowds of mourners packed a wake and two Masses at Holy Ghost Church and a third at St. Joseph Catholic School to pay
their last respects to Father Henkel, who at 79 was the oldest active priest in the Diocese of Knoxville.
Father Henkel, whose illness and hospital confinement caused him to miss Christmas Masses at Holy Ghost for the first
time in the 38 years he had been pastor at the North Knoxville church, died of a heart attack at St. Mary's Medical Center
where he had been admitted Dec. 23 suffering from double pneumonia.
Father Vann Johnston, associate pastor of Holy Ghost and diocesan chancellor, said the estimated 900 people who crowded
into the church for a memorial Mass for Father Henkel at 6 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 28, set an attendance record for the city's second
oldest church. All of the pews were filled as were an additional 100 folding chairs. Dozens of others stood
in the aisles and dozens more were unable to get into the church and listened from outside.
Rose's Funeral Home representatives said more than 1,400 signatures were collected in the guest book at the wake
service Sunday night. Father Johnston noted that many of the signatures represented couples and that some people weren't
able to sign the book.
A second memorial Mass at 8 a.m. Monday, Dec. 29, at St. Joseph School, which Father Henkel founded, also was packed
Holy Ghost was again packed to capacity at 11 a.m. Monday for the funeral Mass. About 60 priests from throughout
the Diocese of Knoxville as well as visiting priests from Memphis and Nashville joined Bishop Anthony J. O'Connell and Bishop
James D. Niedergeses in celebrating the Mass of Christian Burial. Bishop O'Connell also presided at the two memorial
Among the mourners at the Funeral Mass were Father Henkel's siblings, Gus Henkel, Sister Ann Frances, Josephine Hildebrand,
Angela Bricks, Sylvester Henkel, and Margaret Catignani, all of Nashville. Another sister, Agnes Frey of St. Louis,
Mo., was unable to attend. A number of his nephews, nieces and grandnephews and grandnieces also attended.
Father Xavier Mankel, pastor of Sacred Heart Cathedral and diocesan vicar general, noted in his homily at the funeral
Mass that Father Henkel carried many titles.
"Of all the names used over all these years to describe this fine Christian man--brother, son, uncle, cousin, teammate,
pastor, board member, chaplain, public servant, citizen--the one that seems to say it best was the one he wore so proudly:
Father Henkel," Father Mankel said.
Father Mankel also noted that Bishop O'Connell often called Father Henkel the "Bishop of Hinton Street," and recalled
that in the days when local politician Cas Walker had a store nearby he was often referred to as "the king of Happy Hollow"
and Father Henkel was often called the "Pope of Happy Hollow."
Father John Dowling pointed out in his homily at the Sunday memorial Mass that Father Henkel had been away from the parish
on only five Sundays since Father Dowling came there as an associate nine and a half years ago.
Father Dowling also described Father Henkel as a priest who was on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout
Speaking briefly at the Funeral Mass Monday, Bishop Niedergeses called Father Henkel a "priests' priest and a people's
"He was a priests' priest because he enjoyed being with his fellow priests," the retired bishop of Nashville said.
He recalled that Father Henkel had organized the "Melchisidek Open" golf tournament that attracted priest-golfers from throughout
the Southeast. Golf was one of Father Henkel's abiding passions.
He said "everybody in Knoxville knew Father Henkel" and recalled that a bridge was named after him in the community.
Mentioning the campaign slogan in the recent presidential election, Bishop Niedergeses said Father Henkel "helped thousands
of people build bridges, not to the 21st century, but to eternity itself."
Father Mankel pointed out in his homily that "Father Henkel loved the priestly craft that he exercised so well."
He said the renewal of the Church in the 1960s with the Second Vatican Council presented Father Henkel with challenges as
it did to other priests, "mainly because he loved the Church and he thought it was doing pretty well the way it was."
But, Father Mankel continued, "if the Church asked for something to be done, he would do it. And if the Church
asked for it to be done a certain way, he would do it that certain way. Father Henkel loved the Church, and he loved
the people and the bishops of the Church."
He also noted that he initially had opposed the creation of a diocese in East Tennessee because he thought it would cost
too much money and that there would not be enough priests to staff it.
"And yet when he saw the lean and frugal methods of operation which our new bishop inaugurated, he became as enthusiastic
a supporter . . .of the Diocese of Knoxville and its new bishop as any priest could possibly be."
Bishop O'Connell said Father Henkel had written him in February pointing out that he was beyond the 75-year retirement
age. The bishop said that he felt that if the Pope could ask Cardinal James Hickey of Washington, D.C., and Cardinal
John O'Connor of New York to remain on after reaching their retirement age, he could do the same for "the bishop of Hinton
Bishop O'Connell particularly praised Father Henkel for his unflagging support to Catholic education and for his outstanding
work with the poor and the outcasts of society.
"Nobody worked harder than Father Henkel to make sure all Catholic children had an opportunity for Catholic education,"
The bishop also praised Father Henkel's devotion to his parishoners and the way he bragged about his parish.
"If he ever committed a sin of pride that is one of the times that he did," the bishop said, recalling that Father Henkel
was fond of calling Holy Ghost the "one true Church."
Father Mankel, in recounting Father Henkel's concern for the poor of the area, told a story that on one occasion Father
Henkel helped out a drunk who came by the rectory asking for money. Later when Father Henkel was visiting at the Immaculate
Conception rectory, the same drunk knocked on the door again. Father Henkel once again heard his story and once again
gave him money.
Asked about it, Father Henkel explained that if he didn't give the man money, he would take it from his mother's Social
Security payment. "He knew his territory very, very well," Father Mankel said.
Father Mankel said that in the years Father Henkel was covering the Harriman Missions before coming to Holy Ghost in
1958, he was driving 60,000 to 90,000 miles a year over a territory that covered 13 counties from Dayton to the Kentucky border.
He was a member of the Board of Directors of Knoxville Catholic High School for the entire 38 years he served at
Holy Ghost, Father Mankel said. He also helped out his associate priests, who usually were also teachers at KCHS, to
maintain their teaching schedules by taking most of the sick calls in the middle of the night and carrying part of their
parish load as well as his own full-time load.
Father Mankel said Father Henkel had, in his years at Holy Ghost, performed 700 funerals, 2,000 baptisms, and 500 weddings.
Father Henkel also was a strong supporter of ecumenism in his parish and in the broader community. Jean Larison,
secretary at Holy Ghost for nearly 20 years, said that for many years Father Henkel had supported the little Chestnut Hill
United Methodist Church in Dandridge by giving them palms for Palm Sunday. He also gave them calendars and other things,
she said. The church is making up a memorial gift for St. Joseph School in Father Henkel's name, she said.
Father Henkel was born Aug. 7, 1917, at Loretto, Tenn., the son of Herman and Annie Henkel. He was educated in
Catholic school in Nashville and at St. Ambrose College in Iowa and St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore. He was ordained
a priest Oct. 30, 1943, by Bishop William Adrian at the Cathedral in Nashville.
He served as an associate pastor at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Chattanooga from 1943 to 1947 and at Blessed Sacrament
in Memphis from 1947 to 1949.
In 1949, he went to Blessed Sacrament in Harriman and served the mission churches in 13 counties until 1956 when he was
assigned to St. Jude in Chattanooga. He came to Holy Ghost in 1958 and remained there until his death.
Father Henkel was the founder of St. Joseph School in North Knoxville. He served most of his 38 years with
the Knoxville Ladies of Charity as the spiritual director. He also served as diocesan consultor to the bishop of Nashville
(1971-79) and as episcopal vicar of the Knoxville Deanery (1980-82). He was buried in Calvary Cemetary.
Memorials may be made to St. Joseph School, the Ladies of Charity of Knoxville or the Holy Ghost Burse Fund for seminarians.