The life and work of Brother Adrian Wewer, a renowned Franciscan architect and builder, will be explored through a traveling exhibit at the Athenaeum. The display features a pictorial montage of his work, photographs of artifacts and a chronological account of his life.
The centennial celebration of his work and death gets underway at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Athenaeum, 401 E. Michigan St., with a keynote address by B. Gunar Gruenke, president of Conrad Schmitt Studios, a Wisconsin-based company that provides art, decorative painting and mosaics for churches. The studio specializes in restoration services for buildings of architectural, historical and religious significance.
Breakout sessions on the preservation of churches and cemeteries and lunch will also be held. The cost is $30, and reservations can be arranged by visiting www.adrianwewer.org. The program will move to Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church, 1530 S. Union St., for an organ recital at 4 p.m. A Mass celebrated by Indianapolis Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin and a reception follow. The events at the church are free.
Wewer, part of a wave of German immigrants who came to the United States in the mid-1860s, was assigned to Teutopolis, Ill., along the National Road. He had been trained as a carpenter and adapted those skills to design and build churches, friaries, hospitals and colleges from coast to coast.
At the time of his death in 1914, he had erected more than 100 ecclesiastical structures, including Sacred Heart and its two rare steeples in 1891. “He did phenomenal work for his time,” said Pastor Larry Janezic, who added that the engineering feat was a marvel in itself.
And the church, a veritable treasure trove of visual iconography, retains its neo-Gothic grandeur after being completely restored following a devastating fire in 2001.
In Quincy, Ill., Wewer built the central and west wings at what was then known as Quincy College, St. Francis Solanus Church, Francis Hall, the original St. Boniface Church and Blessed Sacrament Church (formerly known as St. Mary Church). Critics regard his two most notable structures as the hall and Conception Abbey in Missouri. He also erected the original St. Anthony of Padua Church in St. Louis, which was his home.
Before the turn of the century the friary was his usual point of departure for travel to his many assignments. At a time when long-distance travel was arduous, it is understandable that Adrian’s early building activities were concentrated in Midwestern cities and towns near major waterways, where German Catholic settlement was most pronounced. Apparently using the ever-expanding railway system, he and his blueprints reached far from the heartland.
His provincial minister in Germany wrote of him, “Brother Adrian is an excellent carpenter.” Working with older brothers on projects for growing German-American Catholic communities, he also developed his talents for designing church furniture.
Throughout Adrian’s 50 years of service as an architect, his plans and advice were sought in Roman Catholic circles nationwide.
The designs of Adrian were thoroughly imbued with elements of Neo-Romanesque or Neo-Gothic style. He used three basic ground plans for the churches he designed: the three-aisled basilica, the three-aisled hall church and the wide hall church with no side aisles.
In the last decades of his life, Adrian spent increasingly more time in the West. Immediately following the great San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906, he was occupied with the restoration and expansion of Franciscan facilities in the Bay Area.
Adrian completed his 50th year in the order in 1908 and returned to St. Louis, where close friends and beneficiaries of his services congratulated him in person, by telegram or by letter.
He soon returned to California to continue his work. While returning to San Francisco from work in San Luis Rey in late 1913, he fell ill for six weeks and subsequently died March 15, 1914.
The exhibit will remain at the Athenaeum through Oct. 31 before making a short trip to the Central Library, 40 E. St. Clair St., where it will remain through the end of the year.