Learn about Fr. Gerrer
Fr. Gerrer, playing guitarRobert Francis Xavier Gerrer was born on July 23, 1867 in the village of Lautenbach, Alsace, France. In 1872, Gerrer and his family immigrated to the United States to escape the Franco-Prussian War. The family initially settled in St. Joseph, Missouri, but soon moved to Bedford, Iowa. At an early age he manifested aptitude for art and music. Robert entertained other youngsters with drawings on school slates, and used native clay to create sculptures. As he grew older, he learned to play various musical instruments and even tried his hand at musical composition. He played the guitar and the clarinet. Early in 1891, the Hurlbert and Leftwich Circus came to town; their orchestra and band needed a clarinetist, and thus began Robert’s brief career as a circus performer.
On Christmas 1891 in Guthrie, Robert met Abbot Thomas Duperou, Superior of the Benedictine community at Sacred Heart Mission, Oklahoma. Fr. Thomas invited Robert to consider joining the community at Sacred Heart. Robert accepted, and a few days later took the train to Purcell to begin the 40 mile trip by prairie schooner to the Mission.
Fr. Gerrer, OSB in Rome, 1903In mid-January of 1892, Robert received the Benedictine habit, and was given the religious name of “Gregory.” His artistic talent was recognized by Abbot Visitor Leander Le Moine, who proposed that Gerrer be sent to Europe to further study art. Shortly after his ordination at Buckfast Abbey in Devonshire, England on September 22, 1900, Fr. Gregory Gerrer, OSB was sent to Rome to study art. He arrived at Sant’ Ambrogio Abbey in Rome on December 7, 1900. He studied in the studio of Giuseppi Gonnella under the direction of several notable artists including Ciro Galliazzi, Salvatore Nobili, and Antonio Ortiz.
Fr. Gerrer painting Mt. SheridanFr. Gerrer also had the opportunity to travel throughout Italy and the Near East during his time in Rome. In 1903, he accompanied Abbot General Maurus Serafini on a mission to the Holy Land. During the trip, he was presented with a small Egyptian scarab with a goose hieroglyph—the symbol for ‘A.’ For Fr. Gerrer this was the beginning of a museum collection.
in the Wichita Mountains
in the Wichita Mountains
Pope Pius X became pope in August 1903 and released a call for artists to paint his official portrait. Fr. Gerrer was chosen as one of the artists that the Pope posed for. The Pope chose Fr. Gerrer’s portrait as his official portrait. Fr. Gerrer brought this painting back to the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. He painted a second painting in El Reno and sent it to the Vatican.
In 1916, Fr. Gerrer became the first president of the Oklahoma Artists Association.
Fr. Gregory Gerrer, OSBIn 1917, representatives of the University of Notre Dame contacted Fr. Gerrer and requested that he apply his knowledge and talents to their growing art collection, the Wightman Memorial Gallery. Fr. Gerrer would continue to act as an advisor and art instructor at Notre Dame for the next 15 years, spending summers in South Bend, autumns and sometimes winters in eastern cities as an artist, critic, or collector, and the remaining months devoted to the gallery and museum in Shawnee. Fr. Gerrer, or Dom Gerrer as he was known at Notre Dame, was the first Director and Curator at the Wightman Memorial Art Gallery.
Fr. Gerrer painting in in his studioIn 1919, Fr. Gerrer moved his treasures from his studio to the newly constructed St. Gregory’s High School and College. There, several rooms were dedicated to exhibiting the museum collection of objects, while the paintings were hung in the foyer and first floor hallway.
Admitted to the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1931, Fr. Gerrer was also recognized as the leading artist in the state at that time. He was commissioned to paint no less than 79 portraits during his lifetime. Fr. Gerrer died August 24, 1946.