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

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