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Florence Henderson’s Catholic roots

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Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 11/25/16

The television legend died on Thanksgiving from heart failure at the age of 82. Her obit in The New York Times notes:

Florence Agnes Henderson was born on Feb. 14, 1934, the youngest of Joseph and Elizabeth Henderson’s 10 children, in Dale, Ind., near the Kentucky border. Her father was a sharecropper, and the family struggled financially. Ms. Henderson recalled working from the age of 8, babysitting and cleaning other people’s homes, and sometimes singing a folk or country song in exchange for groceries.

She had a strict Roman Catholic upbringing and was sent to St. Frances Academy in Owensboro, Ky., for her high school education. There, the Benedictine nuns taught her to sing Latin Masses and Gregorian chants.

By the time she graduated, she had been befriended by two important people in her life: Christine Johnson, a former Broadway actress who suggested that Ms. Henderson study acting as well as singing, and the affluent father of a school friend who helped her get to New York.

The rest, of course, is history.

One of the longtime members of my parish in Queens is Norma Doggett, who will go down in movie history as the “girl in the green dress,” one of the seven dancing brides in “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” Norma will proudly tell you that her other claim to fame is that she was friends with a young Florence Henderson. “I sang ‘Ave Maria’ at her wedding,” she once told me.

Prayers for Florence Henderson and her family.

Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her … 

Photo: Getty Images

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