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Rev. Msgr. Francis Henry Gavisk

So many of our posts deal with the earliest days of the history of the Church in Indiana. It has been said, many times, that after Bishop St. Palais became bishop, the Church began to grow exponentially. It grew even more under the leadership of Bishop Francis Chatard who served from 1878-1918 — 40 years.

During Chatard’s time as bishop, the Diocese of Vincennes became the Diocese of Indianapolis, although Chatard only took the time to stay in Vincennes for his installation. That’s not meant to slight him. Indianapolis was growing rapidly and it was important for the bishop to be at the heart of that growth.

In 1857, twenty-one years before the arrival of Bishop Chatard, who made his home and “proto-cathedral” in the parish of St. John the Evangelist in Indianapolis, August Bessonies, who was recruited by Servant of God, Bishop Simon Brute himself, was named pastor of St. John. He remained pastor until 1890 (he died in 1901) and was a confidant of Bishop Chatard. When the church of Sts. Peter and Paul was established in 1892, Bessonies left St. John’s with Chatard and moved to what became the Cathedral in 1898 when the See was moved to Indianapolis.

Now, with all that being said as background, we come to the subject of this post. Msgr. Francis Henry Gavisk, who succeeded Bessonies as pastor of St. John’s.

Gavisk was born about the time that Bessonies arrived at St. John’s. Gavisk was born in Evansville on April 6, 1856. He grew up in Evansville and attended school there. His first desire was to be a newpaper reporter. After he graduated from high school, he was hired as a reporter for the Evansville Courier. 1 He worked his way up and in 1876 he was named City Editor of the Courier.

Not too long after that promotion, he felt the pull toward priesthood and he atteneded St. Meinrad Seminary, where he was ordained on May 30, 1885. He was assigned as one of the assistants at Saint John the Evangelist. Within 5 years he became the pastor, after the bishop and Fr. Bessonies moved to Sts. Peter and Paul.

Gavisk continued in leadership positions while remaining pastor at St. John. He was promoted to Chancellor of the diocese and in 1919, just one year after the death of Bishop Chatard, he was honored with the title of Monsignor.

In the photo below, you can see the procession outside Saint John’s. You cannot see the Bishop, Joseph Chartrand, hidden behind two priests and in front of the servers holding his long cape. Click on the photo for a larger view. 2

There is no doubt that Msgr. Gavisk and Bishop Chartrand had a good relationship. The 1919 Diocesan Directory shows Msgr. Gavisk now in the role of Vicar General.

In 1925, the Holy Father named Bishop Chartrand as the new Archbishop of Cincinnati and Timothy McNicholas as the new Bishop of Indianapolis. Msgr Gavisk admitted to sending a letter to Rome asking that Chartrand remain in Indianapolis. He said he wrote the letter on behalf of the priests of the Diocese. It isn’t clear how much influence that had on Rome, but eventually, the two bishops switched assignments.

Gavisk was very active in charitable causes. Go Here for a 1929 article about him being hnored for his charitable work.

There was a bit of humor in one of the stories that circulated after his death. Msgr Gavisk’s two assistants, Fr. Clement Bosler, who became the pastor until 1940, and Fr. A.J. Sullivan noted in a newspaper story that

“Fr Gavisk, though less than average height, gave many persons an impression of sternness, an impression given force by the firmness of his features and his piercing gaze. Many outsiders thought his appearance cold and stern, but we found him kind, generous and just…”

Here is a link to Fr. Gavisk’s “Find-A-Grave” site.
Also a very nice story about the funeral service


  1. The Evansville Courier eventually merged with the Evansville Press to become the Couier Press[]
  2. Courtesy of the Archives, Archdiocese of Indianapolis[]

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