By Barb Arland-Fye
Without fanfare or explanation in its Nov. 15, 1956, issue, The Catholic Messenger introduced a new “flag” — the newspaper’s name on the front page — which continues to grace the cover today.
Father Edward Catich, who founded the art department at St. Ambrose College in Davenport and had become a well-known artist and calligrapher, created the flag. Whether he intended to create a lasting imprint for the diocesan newspaper is anyone’s guess.
“Fr. Catich was very productive. He did a lot of things for his own amusement,” said Tom Chouteau, a retired St. Ambrose art professor and protégé of Fr. Catich. “If he did something that appeared in the Messenger, it might have been something he created without knowing that it would be put to that use. You never know.”
Fr. Catich knew the Messenger’s editor, Donald McDonald, and respected his work, said Paul Herrera, a student and longtime apprentice of the late Fr. Catich. Herrera speculates that the priest created the flag as a favor. Whatever the reason, Herrera created an artwork to express his appreciation to the Messenger for retaining the flag and in honor of his mentor’s memory.
The artwork consists of a black slate on which Herrera inscribed “The Catholic Messenger” in the Petrarch letter style Fr. Catich used for the flag. Herrera painted the elegant, chiseled letters with gold sizing and filled them with gold leaf, then attached hand-sawed geometric end pieces to the slate, mounted it on an oak veneer panel and framed the artwork in oak. An estimated 50 hours of work went into the project.
“I believe in The Messenger. I believe in what you do in spreading the news of what’s going on in the diocese. Good quality, good newspaper. It’s faith-based and spiritual. I do appreciate the work you do,” he told The Catholic Messenger staff.
A retired technical illustrator who worked for the Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois, Herrera said he and Bob O’Hare were among the last apprentices of Fr. Catich, who died in 1979. Herrera and O’Hare traveled with the internationally known calligrapher to workshops, calligraphy commissions and visits with colleagues and friends.
Herrera said he enjoyed assisting the priest with his inscription work and today accepts commissions for his own calligraphy projects. He recalls that “Father and I harvested our slates from old schools – chalk boards — he was a great recycler.” The slate for The Catholic Messenger artwork, which Herrera finished with a hand-polishing stone, probably came from a razed Catholic school in Rock Island, Ill., he said.
Today, Herrera, a 1974 graduate of St. Ambrose, volunteers at the university’s Catich Gallery. He’s also writing a book on Fr. Catich and will give a lecture on The Life and Times of Edward M. Catich Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport.