It was 100 years ago, in 1904, that a 37-year-old Benedictine
priest named Father Gregory Gerrer of the Sacred Heart Mission in
Oklahoma was given permission to paint a portrait of Pope Pius X in
The portrait was shipped to St. Louis, where it won a first prize
at the 1904 World Fair. Father Gerrer later painted a replica of the
portrait for the Vatican and opened a studio in Shawnee in 1905. He
started painting other portraits and opened an art class in 1909. In
1915, he founded what is now the Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art at St.
Gregory's University - one of the oldest museums in Oklahoma.
That is a tiny bit of the remarkable story behind the current
special exhibit of Unveiling Ancient Mystery: Etruscan Treasures at
the museum. More than 200 pieces of Etruscan gold jewelry and 14
pieces of Etruscan marble and artifacts are being shown from the
private collections of Italian Prince Alliata and from the Gregorian-
Etruscan Museum of the Vatican Museums. All this stems from the
Etruscan civilization that pre-dated Rome in Italy.
The exhibit is drawing national attention, because the Mabee-
Gerrer Museum is the only place in the United States where it will
be presented, said Museum Director Debby Williams. This also is the
first time many of the Vatican Museums pieces will be exhibited, and
the first time the gold jewelry has ever been exhibited. The
exhibit, which opened in June, will continue through Oct. 31.
How did this happen? How was the Mabee-Gerrer Museum founded and
developed to the point of hosting this incredible exhibit ahead of
the great museums of New York, Chicago and numerous other large
American cities? To answer this question, I read a little known
typewritten autobiography of Father Gregory Gerrer. It was provided
to me by an extended member of the Gerrer family, which had a
reunion at the museum in June with people from France, Germany and
from coast to coast.
Father Gregory was born as Robert Francis Xavier Gerrer in Alsace
Lorraine, Bartenbach, France on July 23, 1867. He was three-and-a-
half when the Franco-Prussian War broke out, and he remembered
crying out: Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the Prussians are here as they
marched up the street. His uncle, who lived in St. Joseph, Mo.,
invited the Gerrer family to move to the United States. The family
moved in 1872 to Bedford, Iowa. His father, who been a baker for
Napoleon III, found work in his trade and became a partner in a
baking business. Robert Gerrer lived in Bedford until he was 19.
He traveled with his older brother Albert to the West Coast in
1886 and became a musician. He returned in 1887, joined a circus and
played in the band, finding his way to San Antonio and then to
Guthrie. He played in a band there until 1891, when he met Father
Abbot Thomas Duperon of the Sacred Heart Mission, which had been
founded east of Asher and northwest of Konowa in Pottawatomie County
by Benedictine Missionaries in 1875. Duperon invited Gerrer to the
Gerrer went to the mission and received a Benedictine habit in
1892 and was given the religious name of Gregory. He worked as a
baker, played music and painted scenery for plays.
In 1886, Kate Weyneck came to Purcell to teach art to Franciscan
sisters, and Gerrer was allowed to join the class. That spurred his
interest in art and led to his 50-year career. A visiting abbot
noticed his work and proposed to send him to Europe to study art. He
visited relatives in France and then went to Devonshire, England,
where he was ordained a priest as Father Gregory in 1900. …