Priest’s artistic legacy endures

Photos by Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
Madelyn Schmalenberger of Jasper, 10, added pens to bidding clip boards Tuesday evening while helping set up for a silent auction of artwork by the late Father Thad Sztuczko at the Dubois County Museum in Jasper. The money from the silent auction will benefit the Friends of the Grotto, a group that has recently upgraded the grotto on Bartley Street behind Cathedral Health Care in Jasper. To view some of Father Thad's artwork, click here.

By WYATT STAYNER
Herald Staff Writer

Father Thad Sztuczko died more than six years ago, but his artwork lives.

Sztuczko, the former pastor and administrator at Providence Home and Health Care, was an avid painter, decorating the walls of the Jasper facility with murals of the Last Supper and other religious themes as well as painting a sundry of subjects on canvases in his office. Now, 74 of those paintings and some of his personal belongings — a crucifix, an acrylic art set and an old globe with a couple extinct countries — will be displayed for auction in the banquet room of the Dubois County Museum in Jasper starting with a kickoff event at 7 p.m. Friday. The display and silent auction will continue during regular museum hours until Sunday, March 15; the museum is open Tuesday through Thursday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. And Sunday from 1-4 p.m.   
Irene Kapp, the event’s organizer, salvaged the artwork from the Providence Home last fall after Rev. Angelo Quadrini asked her to collect and sell the paintings.

To view some of Father Thad's artwork, click here.

“They were all over the place,” Kapp said of the Sztuczko’s paintings, which were scattered throughout corridors and various rooms.

Proceeds from the auction will benefit Friends of the Grotto, an organization that works to preserve the grotto that sits on Bartley Street and north of Cathedral Home and Health Care Center. The Providence Home became Cathedral last year after being acquired by Ide Management, an Indianapolis-based company that operates long-term nursing home and care facilities. Kapp hopes to make the grotto a bigger tourist attraction and obtain certification as a historic Indiana landmark. The grotto was built in the 1960s and was the idea of Rev. Phillip Ottavi. As a child in Italy, Ottavi experienced an earthquake that demolished his house, killed members of his family and trapped him under rubble for hours. He saw building the grotto as a way of expunging his bitterness toward rocks and finding God in them. Kapp said the auction money will go toward upkeep of the grotto and she envisions Sunday services in it if the weather permits. Already a plan is in place for a May 10 ceremony in the grotto, which Kapp said will include the First Communion of about five children.

Kapp’s plan to restore the grotto continued Tuesday night at a special showcase for Sztuczko’s art. Kapp and about 25 volunteers set up Sztuczko’s paintings on easels before nearly 20 visitors walked through the museum banquet room to explore the diverse collection, which featured animals such as eagles and horses, Native Americans and landscapes like towering mountains and blue lakes.  

Jeff Theising, a 52-year-old Jasper resident, knew Sztuczko through attending Mass on occasion, noting that you could “always pop in for Father Thad’s Mass if you missed the others.”

Theising wasn’t aware of the scope of Sztuczko’s art collection, but he remembers seeing Sztuczko driving Providence Home patients in the facility’s bus, shuttling them to sporting events or outdoor activities, and always thought Sztuczko was a forbearing man.

“To be able to do art as good as he did, you have to have a lot of patience,” Theising said. “And he showed a lot of patience in his work.”

Theising wasn’t alone in his praise for Sztuczko. Bob Pfister and wife Kathy were married by Sztuczko and had both of their sons, Zach and Krueger, baptized by him as well. Sztuczko once drew Bob a bowl of fruit and had promised a painting of a Native American, but never got around to it.

“He was always drawing stuff,” said Bob, 60. “He must have never rested.”

Judy Welp, left, and Clara Fromme, both of Jasper, helped set up Tuesday for an upcoming silent auction at the Dubois County Museum in Jasper. To view some of Father Thad's artwork, click here.

Bob also fondly remembers attending Knights of Columbus conventions in Indianapolis with Sztuczko, who was the chaplain for the Knights of Columbus chapter in Jasper. In Indy, Sztuczko accompanied the men as they perused local food markets and often scored free fruit because Sztuczko could speak Italian to certain market vendors. On the way home, Sztuczko made everyone sing the rosary as payment for the food.      

“He brought everyone into the church with love,” Bob said. “You didn’t have to be Catholic. He was always there for everybody.”

Bernard Fallon, a 53-year-old Jasper resident and K of C member, recalls Sztuczko attending meetings at the former Knights of Columbus Hall on Main Street. Sztuczko said a prayer at the end of the gatherings and offered advice and a small sermon during the meetings. At the special showcase Tuesday night, Fallon made plans to bid on four pieces of art: a small stain glass painting of Mary, Jesus, and the wise men because it has a “wonderful look”; a landscape painting of mountains near a lake because he visited Yellowstone and Mount Rushmore with his wife, Marsha, last year; a gigantic canvas painting of a bald eagle for Marsha, who loves the birds; another large canvas painting of a diverse group of children gathered around Joseph and Mary, who is holding baby Jesus.

Fallon wants the last one for his six children.

“It’s so modern,” he said. “Everyone is welcome.”  
 
Contact Wyatt Stayner at wstayner@dcherald.com.




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