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Father Catich was a man of letters

DAVENPORT -- One of the hidden treasures of the Quad-Cities is the Catich Gallery at St. Ambrose University, repository for the work of the Rev. E.M. Catich, an internationally known calligrapher.

The gallery opened Feb. 14, 1985, with Ed Voss as acting director. Mary Gilroy Herrera became curator in 1986 and catalogued more than 4,000 works by Father Catich that were owned by what was then St. Ambrose College.

Father Catich's former studio in the Galvin Fine Arts Center became the gallery. It was there he pursued his life work, and it was there he was found dead on Holy Saturday, 1979.

File Photo

One of the world's finest calligraphers, the Rev. E.M. Catich lived and worked at St. Ambrose University for more than 40 years. His work is preserved in the Catich Gallery, thought to be the only gallery devoted to calligraphy in the United States.

He was born in Montana and orphaned at an early age. He and his twin brother were sent by train to Mooseheart, an Illinois orphanage, where he became a sign-writing apprentice. He later worked as a union sign writer in Chicago and studied at the Art Institute.

Father Catich held degrees from St. Ambrose College and the University of Iowa and studied at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

Ordained in 1939, he joined the St. Ambrose faculty the same year, teaching math, engineering, art and music. He also served parishes in Atkinson and Hooppole on weekends.

Slate inscriptions, stained glass, calligraphy and liturgical designs in watercolor and prints were his art forms.

Father Catich was a staff consultant to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Harvard's Houghton Library and the Encyclopedia Britannica.

The gallery in his memory was started with a $10,000 gift from Hallmark Cards Inc. in 1981. Several of his former students worked for Hallmark.

It is thought to be the only gallery in the country concentrating on calligraphic works. Its mission is to preserve the Catich collection, document and maintain records of the collection, exhibit selections from the collection to the public, and make the collection accessible to graphic-arts professionals and scholars.

Light and bright -- and neater than Father Catich's studio ever was -- the gallery is bathed in a glow from his stained glass, permanently installed in the east windows.

A bust of Father Catich sculpted by James P. Anderson, a former member of the St. Ambrose art faculty, is a fine reminder of the man who inspired this tribute: ``Like Ruskin and Morris before him, he is able to enter into the lives of ancient craftsmen, rediscovering in his own mind and body the secrets of their art.''

Gallery visitors can enter into his life by making a rubbing of a Catich slate.

A spin-off from the gallery was formation of the Quad City Calligraphers Guild in 1988, and several calligraphy and bookbinding workshops have been held there.

The gallery is open by appointment, and a work-study student serves as a docent on Mondays and Wednesdays or Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3 or 4 to 6 p.m. To arrange a visit, call Lance Sadlek at 333-6252.

-- By Julie Jensen (January 22, 1998)

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