For late actress Florence Henderson, Catholic faith was her foundation

IMAGE: CNS photo/St. Anthony Messenger


CINCINNATI (CNS) — In what came
to be her final interview, actress Florence Henderson told St. Anthony
Messenger magazine that throughout her life, through good times and bad, her
Catholic faith was her foundation.

“I don’t ever remember not
praying. Bedtime prayers, the rosary, praying for friends, relatives, for the
sick and for those who had died. It was a natural part of our lives,” she told
writer Rita E. Piro, who interviewed the popular actress in August. The story appears
in the January 2017 issue of the magazine, published by Cincinnati-based
Franciscan Media.

Henderson, who died unexpectedly
Nov. 24 at age 82, was best known for her role as Carol Brady in the 1970s
sitcom “The Brady Bunch.” Originally broadcast from 1969 to 1974, the program
has never been off the air and has been syndicated in over 122 countries. It
remains one of the most beloved and most watched family shows of all time.

“I frequently am contacted by
people who want to thank me for ‘The Brady Bunch,'” she told Piro. “Whether
they grew up during the show’s original television run or are brand-new fans of
the present generation, they tell me how important ‘The Brady Bunch’ has been
in their lives. I wanted to portray Carol as a loving, fun, affectionate
mother, and it seemed to resonate with a lot of people who maybe had the same
situation I did growing up. To think that something I was involved in had such
a positive effect on the lives of so many people is satisfying beyond words.”

Her most important role, though,
she said, was Mom to her own four children — Barbara, Joseph, Robert and
Elizabeth. “My children and their happiness have always been my greatest
concern,” she said.

She described her children to
Piro as “the nicest people you could ever meet” and “very spiritual people.”

“Being a mom makes you far more
compassionate. You have more empathy for people, more love,” Henderson added. I
was always taught to say thank you and I’m very grateful. And my kids have that
quality, too.”

In the interview Henderson said
that from time to time, she found herself questioning her faith, mainly in
instances unrelated to her career.

As a new mother, the actress experienced
repeated bouts of postpartum depression, Piro reported. During the mid-1960s,
Henderson was diagnosed with a hereditary bone deformity of the middle ear and
needed surgery to prevent deafness. Stage fright and insomnia also were present
in her life.

“The loss of family and friends,
especially her siblings, weighed heavily upon her, as well as a natural fear of
her own mortality,” said Piro.

Born the youngest of 10 children
in tiny Dale, Indiana, across the Ohio River from Owensboro, Kentucky, young
Florence later moved with her family about 25 miles away to Rockport, Indiana.

Piro noted that little Florence
was a natural at singing from age 2, but she “had little to sing about” growing
up with her nine siblings in extreme poverty during the Great Depression. “But
that didn’t keep her from developing a deep love for her faith,” which sustained
her through life, Piro wrote.

Henderson was educated by
Benedictine nuns and priests in St. Meinrad and Ferdinand, Indiana. (She had a
priest in the family; her uncle, Jesuit Father Charles Whelan, taught
constitutional law at Fordham University.) In the St. Anthony Messenger interview,
Henderson talked at length about her first-grade teacher –- Benedictine Sister

After high school, with the help
of a close friend and her wealthy family, Henderson was enrolled at the Academy
of Dramatic Arts in New York City — which launched her long acting career.

She made her debut on Broadway as
the star of “Fanny” in 1952. She played Maria in the original version of “The
Sound of Music,” also on Broadway. She starred in several touring productions,
including “South Pacific” and “Oklahoma!” She made numerous appearances on
television, in film and live music shows.

Henderson’s last television
performance was with Maureen McCormick (who had played daughter Marsha Brady) on
“Dancing With the Stars” on ABC Sept. 19. McCormick was a contestant, and Henderson
took part in a Brady Bunch-themed performance. Henderson competed on the show herself
in 2010.

In a 1994 interview with Mark
Pattison, media editor at Catholic News Service, Henderson lovingly
recalled her role as Carol Brady and “The Brady Bunch” legacy.

She said that perhaps because of
her wholesome image, parents approached her to ask if certain TV shows were
good for their children to watch. “They’re responsible for this little soul
they’ve brought into the world and they wonder what’s being taught,” she told

“Very few people in our business
have been a part of something that everyone seems to feel with great affection.
They really love the characters. They love Carol Brady, everyone in it. And
that it’s still going strong after so many years absolutely amazes me,” she

The show “represents what
everyone wants in life, and that is a loving family, unconditional love, a
place to make mistakes, to get angry, to be forgiven, to forgive,” Henderson

– – –

Editor’s Note: More information about
St. Anthony Messenger and how to get the complete article on Florence Henderson
is available at

– – –

Copyright © 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

Original Article