By Msgr. Francis Henricksen
He planned ahead. He built a log-cabin style home on a hill overlooking a well-stocked pond with fish desiring to be caught. He had given up his first retirement home in Minnesota to be back with the people and diocesan family he loved.
He could have retired at 70, but in good health, he moved to a less-demanding assignment from Tipton to Mechanicsville. Finally, the call to a beautiful setting — a home he could call his own, won out.
But he lost nonetheless, for just before he could move permanently to fulfill his dream of a well-earned and deserved retirement, he was striken physically and confined to a home he had not planned. It amounted to a confinement and a restriction of his activity of more than three years in a health-care facility. His only release finally came Sept. 21 when he was called home to a retirement dwelling of perfect love and peace, to a beauty and comfort that exceeds anything earth could offer or imagine.
Father Eugene Benda gave the Church his service for 50 years. He never really got to celebrate his golden jubilee. However, he was an example to us all how to celebrate each day of our lives. He loved people! He had many friends. He loved to sing, and even carried on what he deemed to be his ministry in the nursing home by leading the community sing-a-long at every opportunity.
He loved nature and to hunt and be with his dogs (who were truly his children). Whether he was successful in hunting his prey or not, the stories of his escapades far exceeded the accomplishment of the expedition. Storytelling was one of his other great talents. Songs and stories could go on and on.
His professional ministry in the field of education seemed to be his first love. His contacts with the youth at both Assumption in Davenport and Regina in Iowa City gave him real satisfaction and longtime relationships with those whose lives he helped guide. He will be remembered by many. Pastorally speaking, he was a servant who filled the needs of the people he served. He leaves no “brick and mortar” behind, but a generous and gentle love, a Christ-like kindness that is the witness to be effective and remembered.
Fr. Gene came from a farm of Jefferson County. In my first assignment as a priest in Fairfield, I knew him as a student at St. Ambrose and a seminarian at Mount St. Bernard. He lived out in his ministry the formation of those first days of his youth, family and education. The one thing he never lost and the legacy he leaves us all is the demonstration of his accepting the will of God — no matter how demanding it may be.
Now he has it all. He would probably quote the late Lawrence Welk for us at this point and tell us all to “Keep a song in your heart.”
Eternal rest and peace be with you!
Obituary for Fr. Benda
Father Eugene Benda, a retired priest of the Diocese of Davenport, died Sept. 21. He was 75.
A native of East Pleasant Plain, he attended schools there and graduated from St. Ambrose College in Davenport and completed his theology studies at Mount St. Bernard Theological Seminary in Dubuque.
On June 4, 1960, he was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Ralph Hayes at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport.
From 1960-67 he was an assistant at St. Mary Parish in Iowa City. He then served on faculty at Assumption High School in Davenport from 1967-71. Fr. Benda was religious education director at Regina High School in Iowa City from 1971-80 and then served as president of the school from 1979-81. While serving as president he also was pastor of St. Bridget Parish in Nolan Settlement and St. Bernadette Parish in West Branch from 1980-81. During his time in Iowa City, Fr. Benda also earned a master’s degree in guidance and counseling from the University of Iowa. Fr. Benda then served as pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City from 1981-89, St. Mary Parish in Tipton from 1989-2004 and St. Mary Parish in Mechanicsville from 2004-07. He retired in 2007.
Fr. Benda was a member of the Knights of Columbus.
His funeral was held Sept. 25 at St. Mary Church in Tipton. Burial followed at St. Bridget Cemetery in Nolan Settlement.