Sunday, November 17, 2013

"He is moving farther away in people's minds."

Every single one of my ancestors was someone's child.  Obvious, right?  But it's not an objective thought for me.  It's very, very personal.  And that thought is always with me and has been since I started this quest.  It's why I'm obsessed with including all of them in my tree.  Every child mattered.  Each one made an impact.  It doesn't matter how old or how young they were when they died.  They all changed the world, if just a little bit.  All of their loved ones changed because they knew them.

Each member of my tree should be known and remembered.  Every mother of each of those children would ask us to not forget her child.  After my cousin PJ died, my Aunt Janny said to me, "You should never have to bury your child.  It doesn't matter how old he is.  He's still your baby."

It is my responsibility to make sure that I remember and honor each one, and my sister Karen's most recent blog entry reminded me of this.

"I am also concerned that he (Brandon) is moving farther away in people's minds."

A Sorrowfull Mother

I can only pray that we don't allow any of our family members to move further away in our minds.

George Kerkhoff, Grandpa Joe's older brother

Edna Geisen, died at 3 1/2 years of age
Grandma Elsie's older sister

Ester Helen Elizabeth Meyer, died at 5 weeks of age
Grandma Ada's little sister
Buried in the Heger family plot

Infant (Boy) Geisen, Stillborn
Grandma Elsie's baby brother
Buried in the Geisen family plot

PJ Maurer
with Grandma Elsie

Al Meyer
with his sister, my Grandma Ada

Brandon Gromada
My darling nephew

Sarah Catherine Kerkhoff
23 July 1991

Edward Kerkhoff (twin brother of Inez Kerkhoff Perkins)
24 July 1891

Bernadina Antonetta Lisette Kerkhoff (older sister of Anthony Kerkhoff)
02 March 1848 - 11 October 1862

Lorraine Kerkhoff (older sister of Dad's)
05 March 1924 - 10 March 1924

Martha Amanda Purcell (Mom's aunt)
18 May 1889 - 29 July 1889

And many, many more.................................................

Sunday, September 15, 2013

These German American Lutherans Are Tough to Track Down

Quite often, I'm reminded how thrilled I am that most of my ancestors were Catholic.  I love my faith, and I fully appreciate that the practice and love of the Catholic faith has been handed down from generation to generation in my family.  But from a genealogy point of view, if your peeps were Catholic, you've probably hit pay dirt!

That's because all sacramental records are kept at the diocese level along with being kept at the actual parish.  And every diocese has an archive department.  I could tell quite a few tales about how much I love my Catholic church archivists.  These records hold priceless information--not only names of parents but also godparents.  Usually, godparents were family members (unless you're dealing with my Geisens, and then the godfather is someone who owns a brewery), and they can lead you in all different and fabulous directions.

I know how to get my Catholic records (even if I have to wait awhile because that archive office is closed for renovation and relocation).  It must be in my blood since my great uncle, Msgr. Gerhard "Gerry" Geisen was the Chancellor (head of the archive office) for the Covington diocese.

And then I run into my Protestants.  They're tough sometimes.  The Anglicans on my maternal grandpa's side have cooperated with me.  Great Britain has released quite a few of those records.  But the German American Lutherans..........

They haven't cooperated in my search quite so much.  Actually, not at all.  I can't find Pittsburgh/Allegheny Co. Lutheran records online.  I've found a few churches that have had their records microfilmed, so I'm hoping against hope that my German Meyers and Seips worshipped there.  Yeah, what are the odds of that?  I'll put it this way--I'm not going to hold my breath.

I finally did get one lead.  Someone posted on Ancestry about where some of the old records for western Pennsylvania Lutheran records are kept.  Do I see a road trip in my future?  Certainly a phone call.

Lutheran Church Records--Thiel College

My dad's maternal grandfather, Frederick Meyer, was born in Pittsburgh to a Lutheran family.  But my great grandmother, Amelia Heger, "encouraged" him to convert to Catholicism before she'd marry him.  But I need to find out if he was baptized in the Lutheran church (he was conditionally baptized in the Catholic faith when he converted).  I need to find his parents' marriage sacramental record.  I need to find his siblings' baptismal documents.  Because those things will give me new names to track down.  I already know where the Meyer clan lived in Pittsburgh (the Birmingham suburb on the south side), and there are quite a few other Meyer people and some Seips in that neighborhood.

Historic Maps of Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh City Directories

Are they mine?  I NEED TO KNOW!

Side note--Only if you're as obsessed as I am will you understand my perseverance.  If you're not into it, I fully understand you thinking to yourself "WTF?"

OK, thanks for listening to my vent and frustration.  Those of us who are ridiculously obsessed with our peeps know when we're "this close" to finding something.  And that's how I feel about this family.  I just need a few more pieces to my family puzzle.  And I need those Lutheran church records to start assembling it.  I also need to acknowledge that the research frustration is not all the Lutheran's fault.  It's also the responsibility of my Meyer family.  Try looking for "Johan Meyer" or "John Meyer."  Make sure that there's a brick wall close by that you can bang your head against.  He's become, for me, the poster boy for "Needle in a Haystack."

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Unknowns

How can I ever thank my Geisens for having family photos taken?  And how can I ever tell them how much it means to me, 120+ years laters, that these photos have survived?  Many photos that are housed in the Geisen family photo album (a gorgeous green velvet album--sounds tacky, but it's not) have the subject's name written on them.  Or I know who they are (Aunt Mayme had a distinctive look) because I distinctly remember them.

I saw the beautiful face of my Aunt Edna, my Grandma Elsie's older sister.  A sister Grandma never knew.  Edna died at 4 years of age from heat stroke, and Grandma was born the next year.

Edna Geisen (1887)

Edna in between her 2 older sisters--Aunt Dada (Charlotte) on the left and Aunt Mayme on the right (photo probably taken around 1889)

I've been to Edna's grave.  She's buried in the Geisen family plot at Mother of God cemetery in Covington.  She's with her mommy and daddy.  And as I've stood at her grave, looking at her name, I've thought of the unbelievable sorrow that her parents (my great grandparents), siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. went through during her illness, death, and the years after.

How can I express how much I love having a photo of her?  Of knowing what she looked like?  For whatever reason, I "feel" that I have a responsibility to these peeps of mine.  A responsibility to let others know who they were.  To not allow them to be forgotten.  I know it's not logical.  But it has become a sometimes overwhelming feeling.  I feel a responsibility to these family members to make sure that they live on.

That responsibility leads me to the fascination/obsession I have with my Geisen/Pistner family "Unknown" photos.  Many in the photo album have no identification.  Who are these people who my Geisens loved so much that they included them in the family album?  I'm trying to narrow some of it down.  Does a certain photo look like another photo of a "known" person?  We have a photo of Lizzie Geisen (my great grandfather's sister).  Does this other photo look like her?  As soon as I saw it, I thought to myself, "That's Lizzie." But maybe I'm mistaken.  They're obviously related, but is it the same person?  I don't know.  Will I ever know?  Perhaps not.  But I'll do my damndest to figure this out.

The "known" photo of Lizzie (Elizabeth) Geisen

Is this an earlier photo of Lizzie?

And who is this family? Where were they when this photo was taken?  The "matriarch" was wearing black.  Was she in mourning?  The men look like Geisens (like my great grandfather, but I don't think he's either one of them).

The men in this photo look like Geisen men.

Is this woman the same woman in the photo above it (center--in between the 2 guys)?

These are many of my "Unknowns."  But what is "known" about them is that they were loved by my family.  They were all so precious to my Geisens and Pistners that they were included in the album.  And that makes them very precious to me.

Monday, May 6, 2013

A Different Type of Post for Me

Since this is a genealogy blog, it should be assumed that I would only post things dealing with my never ending hunt.  And in a way this one is.  But only in a way.  I'll call it a "detoured" genealogy blog entry.

As some of you may know, my nephew Brandon Gromada died a little over 11 months ago.  He was diagnosed in 2010 with head and neck cancer and was unrelenting in his fight against this f'ing disease. After his death, his mother and father (my eldest sister and brother-in-law) started a foundation in his name to continue Brandon's fight.

Brandon C. Gromada Head & Neck Cancer Foundation

The foundation is always in fundraising mode, as is every foundation.  Every penny counts.  A friend of Brandon's has included his foundation in a fundraiser he does during the month of May.  So, I've accepted his "challenge" and have added his website to my "BlogRoll."  I'm going to admit right now that I didn't even know what a "BlogRoll" was and had to google it and how to add it.  And I'm blogging about the challenge here and including the link.

Beartoons 2013 Challenge

Beartoons 2012 Challenge

If you're a blogger or know anyone who writes a blog, will you please pass this challenge along to them?  The one year "anniversary" (what a horrible word for this "marker") of his death will be here in just a few weeks.  Please help the foundation kick this cancer's a$$!

I wrote an entry about Brandon in August.  If you haven't read it and would like to know a little bit about him, here it is.

Brandon's Amazing Strength

And my sister, Brandon's mom, also writes a blog about her grief.  Get a box of Kleenex ready if you choose to read this.  She's very open about what she's going through.

A Sorrowfull Mother

And this photo of Brandon and me was taken at my niece's wedding reception after he performed his infamous "Worm" dance move for me.  I had never seen him do it and had begged him to do it for me (ok, it didn't take a lot of begging--LOL!), and he didn't warn me ahead of time that he was going to perform it.  So being the good aunt I was, I insisted he do it again so I could see it.  This was the result.  I know I shouldn't be laughing in the photo, but his joy was infectious.  If Brandon was smiling and laughing, you couldn't help but do that, too.

And this is what Brandon's mama wrote the day after his death:

"Just want all to know that Brandon did not lose his battle with cancer - not even a tie. Yes, it claimed my beautiful boy's body but he totally beat it emotionally. Another 'spot' somewhere, he'd take a few days to regroup and then it was 'Chemo? Radiation? Uncomfortable tests or procedures? Bring 'em on and let's get 'er done!' He quietly dealt with side effects that affected what and how this gourmet cook and foodie could eat, but he adapted with comment but no complaint. It robbed him of energy, which affected this athlete's ability to run, kayak, rock climb, camp, etc but he adapted - kept doing as much as he could until with on/off low-grade fevers he just couldn't. He showed cancer it could take his body, but it couldn't take his spirit. He showed this f'n disease that it could NOT have his dignity, his humor, his vitality - it NEVER beat the authentic Brandon. And I do NOT want him to rest in peace - he's too active for 'peace' - but I do want him to move forward in Love..." 

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Quiet Ones are Always the Fiercest

I'm going to keep going with the theme of family strength (Strength through the Generations).  I've focused on my "blood" family and their individual shows of strength.  But we can't forget those who have married into our brood. We are attracted to the strong.  And it shows itself in the most incredible and heartbreaking ways.

My Kerkhoffs can be a bit overwhelming.  I admit it.  There's no reason to hide from it.  We can't escape it.  But I think we tend to forget that not everyone is like us--loud and opinionated.  I think our "ways" are fabulous, but it did take me some years to realize that not all people share my views on this particular subject. 

I loved Joni right away, but she was quiet.  And we weren't used to that.  We were used to Joe and Henry, and I think we scared her a bit (ok, A LOT!).  Thinking back, I can't imagine walking into our family.  I often wonder how Eric "prepped" her for meeting us.

I always appreciated how much Joni welcomed me.  I visited them in Houston for a week, and one of the things that struck me was how much she actually seemed glad to have me invade her home for that long!  And what great memories I have of that trip--watching "Pee Wee's Big Adventure" and drinking cheap Mexican beer with Eric.  My brother literally having to escort Joni and me out to the car after one too many excellent margaritas at a fantastic local Mexican restaurant, Spanish Village.  Cold Stone Creamery (before they were everywhere).  Fabulous dinners out every night.  This was before I started my glamorous job in the airline business, so I loved the excitement of traveling to their home.

Sarah.  I'll never forget when Mom told me.  For some reason, I had stopped over at Mom and Dad's, and Mom was crying.  She said that Eric had called and told them that Sarah had died.  Joni was just about at her due date and went in for her last scheduled checkup.  Just as at every prenatal visit, the doctor used that little gadget to listen for Sarah's heartbeat.  I can't imagine the silence in that room.  The suffering of Joni as she waited for the sound of Sarah.  Then the doctor performed an ultrasound and confirmed the unthinkable.

She had a knot in her cord, and when she "dropped" in preparation to be born, the knot was pulled too tight.  How on earth could a knot form?  When Sarah was just a wee little one, she "swam the wrong way" and tied a knot in her own cord.  Up until the end of the pregnancy, the knot was loose enough to not impact Sarah's growth and nutrition.  It wasn't until the end that it was too tight to be able to sustain her.

True Knot Complications

I remember being very shocked when Mom told me that they were inducing Joni's labor.  WHAT???!!!  I couldn't understand why they didn't just give her a C-section.  Why make Joni go through all of that?  Why "punish" her that way?  When Joni and I talked about Sarah after that, she told me that she was so glad that she was able to give birth to Sarah without having to have a C-section.  I must've given her a strange look because I'll never forget her looking at me and saying, "It was the last 'motherly' thing I was able to do for Sarah.'"  Oh my God!  Twenty one years later, I am still brought to tears by her "simple" statement.

However, after Mom told me the news about Sarah, I simply couldn't process the news.  I had just had Nick 6 weeks before.  We were all numb.  At some point that day (after Eric told us but before Sarah was born), I walked past Mom and Dad's bedroom door, and I heard Dad praying.  "Please God, I've had a long life.  Take me.  Please don't take Sarah.  Take me."   He kept repeating this prayer, over and over, as he was sobbing.

In the years that have passed since Sarah, I have always marveled at Eric and Joni.  Sarah was and will always be an important part of our family.  But I think I was most amazed at the fact that Eric and Joni were never bitter.  Grieving parents?  Yes.  Bitter?  No.  Strong?  Yes.  And amazing.

And then they had Hope.  What a fantastic story her life is!  But that's for another blog entry.

I don't even know how to write about Joni's battle with Stage 4 ovarian cancer.  Because words can't do it justice.  Anything I write will seem trite, and I will never be able to convey Joni's fierceness.

Eric, Joni, and Hope came to "my" Joe's First Communion Party in May, 2004.  It was only a few days after the party that Eric told Mom and Dad that doctors had found cancer cells in the fluid they had drained from around Joni's lungs (I think I have these details correct, but I may be mistaken about the diagnosis and timing).  When I asked Mom why Eric or Joni hadn't said anything when they were at the party, Mom said that Eric told her that Joni didn't want to ruin Joe's day.  That's Joni, thinking of others even in the midst of the storm.

I will simply tell you that I never remember Joni complaining about anything concerning her treatment and/or diagnosis.  As a matter of fact, Eric called me one time to ask me if I could get Joni to the ER because she was getting dehydrated after her chemo (this is when they lived in Mason), and he would meet us at the ER (he was at work, and I could get her to Bethesda North quicker).  I rushed over to their house and got her in the car.  And during our drive to the ER, she kept apologizing that I "had" to come and get her and how sorry she was that she was "inconveniencing" me.  I finally told her to stop it!

She kept fighting and was declared in remission, against incredible odds.  Her "numbers" went up a little bit after a few years, she had chemo, and they came back down.  But that remission didn't last long.  Then she began her last fight.

For me, her last battle was a bit of a blur.  We all deal with things in our lives and get caught up in our own stuff.  And at this time, Eric and Joni were living up in a Chicago suburb.  Eric always kept us updated with how Joni was doing with chemo and things.  And then he e-mailed us on New Year's Day, 2012.  He had rushed her to the ER and after being in the hospital for a few days, they found and removed tumors that were totally blocking her intestines.  They also found that the cancer had "seeded" itself in numerous places on her abdominal wall.

I was driving up to Chicago while she was in surgery.  About half way into my drive, my sister Betsy called me to tell me the news of what they discovered.  By the time I got to the hospital, she had just been taken from Recovery and settled into her regular hospital room.  Eric told me that she hadn't been told yet, so I quickly said hello to her, gave her a kiss and left the room so the doctor and Eric could tell her.

Eric got in touch with me a while later and met me in the hospital cafeteria.  He said that she wasn't surprised by what they had found.  She had suspected.  No screaming.  No tantrums.  Just calm.  And strong.  Again.

One of the clearest memories of that day was when a nurse came in and asked her about her nausea level.  Joni was very nauseous due to the chemo and pain meds, and the nurse explained to both Joni and Eric that she couldn't receive the anti-nausea medication again for a certain number of hours.  But she could find out if the doctor could prescribe something else that could be given to her more quickly.  She asked Joni about what her nausea level was (I think she gave Joni a scale of 1-10).  For me, it would've been a TEN (I'm the type who wants laughing gas to get my teeth cleaned, so that tells you a little bit about my tolerance level), but Joni told the nurse that it was maybe a 3 or 4 (I think those were the numbers she said).  The nurse told Joni and Eric that she'd ask the doctor about changing the medication.  And Joni said, "Whenever you have time."

For me, her response to the nurse was and is very telling about Joni.  She was not self centered.  She always thought of others, even as she was going through something like this.  She knew that she wasn't the nurse's only patient and knew that the nurse was busy.  How many of us could say that we'd respond the way that Joni did?  I can't.  I'd be screaming to get me the freaking medication!  Again, it's that "quiet" strength of hers.  Just another example in a long litany of them.

It was amazing to talk to her during those days.  She told me that she kept a journal with her always.  Very close so that she could write in it whenever she felt the desire.  She kept a bag next to her with things she needed.  After a dream, she asked me to order some red maracas for her so she could SHAKE them at cancer when she got mad.  She also told me that when she was given units of blood, she always prayed for the people who had donated it.  Please think about that for a moment.  Because that "simple" act says so much about who she was and is.  She didn't pray for herself while getting the blood.  No.  She prayed for those who had taken the time to donate it.

And her fight continued on for a little over 12 months.  More surgeries, "permanent" g-tube to drain her stomach, numerous CT scans, infections, fevers, antibiotics, chemo, blood clots, low blood pressure......

According to her doctors, Joni was "off the charts" in terms of the length of her survival.  She had cleared so many hurdles that she had approached while running her race.

However, eventually the chemo stopped providing any clinical benefit to her.  Joni was told that she was approaching "end of life."  I still can't wrap my brain around it.  Although it didn't seem to make sense (to my non medical brain), the fluids and liquid nutrition she was receiving started causing more harm than good.  The fluids and liquid nutrition had to be stopped.  Joni then made the decision to receive hospice care.

Our family rushed up to Chicago.  I was in LA and immediately flew there to be with them.   During the days that my sisters, parents, and I were up there (our brother Jim had visited the weekend before), we talked to each other a lot about how Joni walked through this trial of hers.  I remember one conversation with my sister Kathy about how different Joni was compared to how we suspected we'd be.  As Kathy told me, "It would all be about ME!"  And we laughed (there were many times that if we didn't laugh, we'd cry--and we cried a lot) because Joni wasn't like that.  Not when she was first diagnosed, not as she was going through years of chemo, and not during this time.

Joni experienced incredible dreams during her last days.  My eldest sister Karen, who shares a horrific bond with Eric (And the Strength Continues....), asked if she had seen anyone who had passed away.  And this is the answer Karen received:  We Lost--But We Won.

The hospice nurse had told us that, when we walked into Joni's room, we should always tell her who we were so she'd know who was in the room with her.  We'd also tell her if we had to leave the room.  But the nurse also told us to tell her that it was ok "to go."  There was always someone with her, and when we were in the room we'd talk to her, pray for/with her, and/or just be silent with her.

I remember asking her who else was in the room with us (when I was alone with her).  One of my favorite Scriptural passages is Heb 12.1, We Are Surrounded By a Great Cloud of Witnesses.  And I would ask Joni, "Who is here with us?  Who's in the Cloud that is surrounding you?"  This actually became a main topic of discussion for us.  She couldn't answer me with words, but a little while later, I was given the answer.

A few of our sisters and our parents had to get back, so they drove home on Saturday morning.  I was able to stay up there, so that Saturday, it was Eric, Hope, Karen and me.  Eric asked Karen and me if we could take 3 hour "shifts" through Saturday night.  Eric would take the 11pm-2am shift, I'd take the 2am-5am shift, and Karen would take the last one.

On January 27, 2013, at 2 am, I went upstairs to be with Joni.  Eric told me that her breathing hadn't changed.  He also told her that he was going to go downstairs and try to get some sleep, and I told her that she was stuck with me for a few hours.  I talked to her for a few minutes, and then Hope came in to say goodnight to her mommy.  After her "goodnight," Joni and I were alone and we "talked" again for a minute or two.  I had brought my laptop upstairs with me so that I could concentrate on something through the night, and I started surfing the web.  I was sitting on their bed, which was next to the hospital bed Joni was in.

At about 2:20-2:25 am, I noticed that the wifi signal was very weak (not at all usual for Eric's excellent wifi service).  And then the wifi connection dropped completely.  I moved my cursor over the wifi signal on the top of my screen, and I don't remember seeing their network listed as one that my computer could pick up.  But I waited for the connection to reestablish itself (as it always had in the past), but it didn't.  The wifi connection was completely gone.

During all of this, Joni's breathing was exactly the same as it had been.  After realizing that the wifi was gone, I closed my laptop and put it to the side of me.  A second later, a minute later, 2 minutes later......I'm not sure how long the pause lasted.  But then Joni's breathing changed.  I remember sitting up straight and waiting.  She breathed again, and then......nothing.  I quickly jumped up and told her that I knew that we had all been telling her that it was ok to go, but would she please hold on for just a minute until I could get everyone in the room.  Eric didn't hear me call for him the first time (I didn't yell down the stairs), so I quickly ran into the guest bedroom where Karen was sleeping to tell her to get up.  Hope was across the hall in her room and heard me.  She and I both ran into her parents' room, and when Hope got into the room, Joni took another breath.  I ran down the stairs to get Eric.  When the four of us were all with her, she took one more breath.  And then...........

I can never articulate how privileged I felt and feel to be allowed to be in that room with them.  I was given an incredible blessing.

At some point, I walked downstairs to make the phone calls to our sisters and brother.  After that was taken care of, I sat down on their family room couch and opened up my laptop.  And when the wifi connection was quickly established, I remembered what had happened in her room right before she began her "transition."  I use that word because I can't think of another one in the English language that adequately describes what was happening to Joni during those moments.

Was the spiritual energy so incredible in the room at that moment that wifi simply could not NOT be interrupted?  Was it at that moment that Joni's entire "cloud of witnesses" came to be with her and escort her Home?

When I told Eric about it, he knew what had happened.  It was when Sarah came to take her Mommy Home.  The wifi password for their home has Sarah's name in it because in my brother's words, "She is everywhere but can't be seen; like wifi."

Hope gave me a bit of another "angle" for it, too.  I told her that perhaps the wifi dropped, in part, because I needed to be fully present for what was about to happen (not that I wouldn't have noticed the change in Joni's breathing, but that I needed to not be distracted in any way when it started).  Hope smiled and told me that her mom would always tell her, "Put the computer down and be PRESENT."  I've also heard that Joni would give "grief" to Hope if she were texting while they were eating.

A couple of days after Joni passed from this earthly life to her Heavenly home, my brother created this for her:

Joni's funeral was held at The Holy Spirit Center in Norwood, Ohio, a place she loved and felt an immediate connection to.

Holy Spirit Center

My brother told me that when he went to speak to the managing director to thank them for allowing Joni's funeral to be held there, he was told that the employees were curious about Joni.  This was the first funeral ever allowed to be held there, and they had to receive special permission from the Archbishop of Cincinnati.  Because the Archbishop gave permission, the priest who said the mass is the President and Rector of Mount St. Mary's Seminary (the Archbishop didn't assign the mass to him--he was given the mass "out of luck"), and the organist and singer who agreed to do the music for Joni's mass used to be at St. Peter in Chains (obviously, all of those involved are rather "big" in the Archdiocese) the employees asked, "Who is this Joni Kerkhoff?  She must be someone important."

Yes, she was and is someone important.

She was a warrior.


Joni Sue Veale Kerkhoff
15 March 1959 - 27 January 2013

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Rt. Rev. Gerhard Heinrich Geisen, P.A.

But in our family, he was simply "Fr. Gerry."

I never knew him.  He died the year before I was born, and he is one of many whom I wish I had known. My mother loved him very much, and from all accounts, he and my Grandma Elsie were very close.  Mom told me that she suspected that Fr. Gerry was not only Grandma's confessor but also her confidant.  Grandma was his elder by a few years, and it appears that they were close their entire lives.

Fr. Gerry Geisen as a baby

Grandma Elsie, 2 years old

I don't know much about his early life.  But I've heard wonderful stories about him from Mom.  Grandma told her about the times that the poor or a drunk would knock on Fr. Gerry's door, he would get up and answer it, talk with the person(s),  and he would give them his dinner and would then go without.

Another lovely story that she has told me is that he would come and visit Grandma and her after Grandpa "Bud" died.  Grandma was a proud woman and a very hard worker.  I never heard a complaint cross her lips, so Mom doesn't know if she ever told her siblings about the financial hardships she faced after Grandpa died (and also during his illness).  But Mom remembers a few instances where she and Grandma would find quarters and half dollars hidden throughout their house after a visit from Fr. Gerry.  They found the coins in the medicine cabinet, throughout the living room and bedrooms.  He must've known that his older sister needed help but didn't want to burden anyone with the request.  So he took it upon himself, just as he did with those unexpected visitors to his door, to help.

Fr. Gerry wasn't just your "run of the mill" priest.  No.  Somehow, someone must have seen something special in him.  He studied theology at the College of the Propaganda (Pontifical Urbania University) in Rome and was ordained by Cardinal Pompili at San Giovanni in Laterno in Rome on 14 June 1924.  And his first mass was said in a chapel in San Pietro Basilica!  Was this normal for a newly ordained "run of the mill" priest?  I don't know.  But I hope to find out.

I know from his passport application record that he studied in Rome from 1920 through his ordination in 1924.  That means that he was very close to St. Peter's Square when Pope Pius XI was elected.  Was my great uncle in the piazza when "Habemus Papam!" was declared?  Watching the crowd that was gathered there today, I couldn't help but wonder.  I assume he was.  I mean, what seminary student wouldn't have rushed there to find out if a new pope had been elected?  Was he yelling "PAPA!  PAPA!" as they were today?  I like to think that he was.

Fr. Gerry's Passport Photo, 1924

He returned to Covington just a month after his ordination and settled into his priestly life there and was made the Chancellor of the diocese of Covington on 1 April, 1926.  Less than 2 years after his ordination, and he was already the Chancellor of the diocese!  But just 7 years after leaving Rome, he went back.  This time, he studied Canon Law at the Gregorian University in 1931-1933.

Chancellor of a Catholic Diocese

Fr. Gerry Geisen--"The American Catholic"

St. Agnes Chapel and Fr. Gerry

At some point during his travels to the Eternal City, he bought an unknown artist's unique painted copy of Raphael's "Madonna and Child (Ansidei Altarpiece)."  How it ended up in my parents' home, I don't know.  But what I do know is that I have always loved it.  As a child, I remember staring at it.  Just staring.  I think I always felt a connection to it, but I don't know why.  I do remember that Mom told me that the appraiser they took it to told them that he suspected that it was painted by a monk or cloistered nun because their painting didn't have a signature on it.  It still hangs in my parents' home, and I still stare at it.

After studying Canon Law, he came back to Covington.  He was made Domestic Prelate on 14 July 1941 and then was made a Protonotary Apostolic on 4 June 1953 by Pope Pius XII.

Domestic Prelate

Prothonotary Apostolic

I've been thinking a lot about Fr. Gerry lately.  How was he chosen to study for the priesthood in Rome?  Why/How was he appointed as Chancellor of the diocese of Covington at such a young age?  How did Pope Pius XII know of him?  What impressed the pope about him?  Why was he made a Protonotary Apostolic?  Where did he live in Rome?  What were his grades like?

The next time I go back to Rome, I'd like to walk a bit in his footsteps.  See the institutions where he studied.  Pray in the chapel where he offered the Sacrifice of the Mass for the first time.  If I'm lucky, maybe I can even discover what his favorite Roman restaurant was.

Our family is very blessed to have such a wonderful example of what a holy priest is--focused on Christ and his vocation (as given to him by God).  A priest who lived what he preached.

Please notice Fr. Gerry's ring on his right hand