Exhibit takes retired priests down memory lane
By Marian J. Barber
The Diocese of Austin recently renovated its St. John Paul II Residence for Priests in Georgetown to make the kitchen, dining room and living room of the community center more inviting and homelike. A highlight of the makeover is a rotating display of artwork, photographs and artifacts on loan from the Catholic Archives of Texas.
The exhibit occupies a central hallway in the community center between the chapel and the dining room, where the residents can see it as they go about their daily routines. It includes artwork mounted on the wall, as well as items arranged in a large three-shelf display case, also on loan from the Archives. The handsome glass and wood case, lit from within, was custom-made for the Archives during the tenure of Bishop John McCarthy, but it has been in storage for several years.
The items inside were chosen from the Archives’ collections by Deacon Michael Aaronson, the diocesan Minister to Retired Priests, and arranged by his wife Christie, who is executive director and co-founder with Deacon Mike of Annunciation Maternity Home in Georgetown. Cheryl Maxwell and Julie Calderia, the Aaronsons’ daughter, helped design the entire renovation project.
Deacon Aaronson said his goal was to choose items that would evoke memories for the retired priests. The first exhibit focused on the first three bishops of the Austin Diocese: Louis J. Reicher, who was bishop from 1947 to 1971; Vincent M. Harris, who served as Bishop of Austin from 1971 to 1986; and Bishop McCarthy, who served the diocese from 1986 to 2001. Many of the priests residing at St. John Paul II served under these bishops as they rose through the ranks from seminarian to assistant pastor to pastor.
To tie the exhibit together visually, Deacon Aaronson chose several items that are red in color. Perhaps the most striking are shoes and socks that belonged to Bishop Reicher in the days before Vatican II when bishops’ regalia included footwear. A red stole with gold trim and metal fringe, also belonging to Bishop Reicher, is one shelf up, and above that is a color photograph of him seated at a red IBM Selectric typewriter.
That particular photo struck a chord with resident Msgr. Victor Goertz, who worked as Bishop Reicher’s part-time secretary while serving as a young priest at Cristo Rey Parish in Austin.
“Bishop Reicher never used that typewriter – I know, because I did!” Msgr. Goertz said. He added that the exhibit brought back many fond memories of Bishop Reicher. “He was so good to be with and work with. He was like a father to me,” said Msgr. Goertz, who was ordained in 1952.
The exhibit includes formal portraits of Bishops Reicher and McCarthy, as well as a large photograph of Bishop Harris being embraced by St. John Paul II. Bishop Reicher looks somber in his portrait, as he often did, but the retired priests especially like a pair of candid photos of the bishop smiling happily as he wades into a group of elementary school children.
“That’s the person he really was,” Msgr. Goertz said. The top shelf of the display case also contains an elegant, gold-plated chalice and paten, a green and gold cord for a pectoral cross, and an elaborately decorated miter, all belonging to Bishop Reicher. The miter was given to him during his attendance at the Second Vatican Council.
The Archives’ photograph and artifacts collections are also rich in material donated by Bishop Harris. Among the photographs on display is one of Bishop of Galveston-Houston Wendelin J. Nold, and then-Msgr. Harris with St. John XXIII, also during the Second Vatican Council. The artifacts include a tiny relic of the True Cross encased in a gold cross and a gold paten given to him by his parents on the day of his ordination as a priest in 1938.
The Vatican II-related items include the display’s great mystery: a photograph of the bishops of Texas in Rome during the Council. A close look reveals that someone has been excised from the picture. It appears that all the bishops are still pictured, so the priests have been speculating about who might have been part of the group but should not have been.
In addition to the Harris and Reicher-related items, St. John Paul II appears again in an informal photo of Bishop McCarthy and Bishop Thomas Tschoepe, during their Ad Limina visit to Rome in 1988. Bishop Tschoepe served as Bishop of San Angelo from 1966 until becoming Bishop of Dallas in 1969. The exhibit also includes a photographic portrait of Bishop Gregory Aymond, photos of and a red and gold miter belonging to Bishop Joe Vásquez.
The residents enjoyed showing off the display to Bishops Vásquez and Daniel Garcia during their annual meeting with retired priests on April 7. Deacon Mike says the exhibit has been a great conversation piece for “the guys,” but they are just about ready for some new material. Father Scott Mikkelson says not so fast – “I haven’t had a chance to try on those socks!” he joked.