"He instinctively can find the shining greatness of our American culture and does a good job of highlighting it (although he also does have those rare lapses when he writes about hockey, but that is something caused by impurities in the Eastern waters or something)." Erik Keilholtz
Under the patronage of St. Tammany
Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children. Email
Friday, September 13, 2002 Threatened treasures of German-American church art
Cosmas Wolf, Design for a High Altar at St. Peter's Church, St. Peter, Indiana, 1864
A monograph by art historian Annemarie Springer traces the history of 19th-century German-American artists who decorated mission churches erected by their immigrant countrymen in North America. The accompanying illustrations are remarkable. Some examples:
Springer writes in her introduction: Time is running out for a great number of nineteenth century churches that have fallen victim to neglect, removal, or alterations. Due to ethnic population shifts and to urban sprawl, former German neighborhoods have undergone drastic changes. In addition, the Second Vatican Council, which met between the years 1962 and 1965, reintroduced a freestanding altar in Catholic Church sanctuaries. The priest celebrating Mass now faces the congregation and no longer the wall behind the altar. Such change prompted many members of the clergy, intent on modernizing the Catholic Church, to alter all of the interior furnishings. Altars, altarpieces, pulpits, statuary, pews, and other "old fashioned" art objects were removed or stored and can no longer be located. Such has been the fate of a large number of works by German-American church artists. There is great danger of more loss.
On the bright side, many local historic preservationists have become aware of the problem during the past twenty years. Dedicated parish members have in many instances collected funds from private and corporate donors for restoration of their churches' interior and exterior. Librarians and archivists have started to research parish records for the purpose of documenting the ethnic and artistic history of immigrant churches that are again regarded as important American edifices. It is also heartening to discover that the Archdiocese of Chicago maintains a repository for art objects and church furnishings that were removed whenever a parish church has been closed during the past ten years. Such objects are then distributed among less prosperous parishes where they can be displayed and enjoyed by the congregation. The effort of the Chicago Archdiocese is just one example of recent awareness by Church officials that steps need to be taken to halt the loss of precious materials.
It is to be hoped that this discussion of one aspect of German-American contribution to the cultural life in the U.S. will stimulate interest among students of history and art. They will be richly rewarded.