Calligraphy Collective to host ‘Roman Holiday’ in Davenport

Cyrus Highsmith
This is one of two logos for the “Roman Holiday” international calligraphy workshop to be held June 22-29 at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — The late Father Edward Catich’s influence on calligraphy worldwide has inspired the Chicago Calligraphy Collective to host a “Roman Holiday” conference at St. Ambrose University June 22-29. The annual conference brings together artists from around the world.

Artists from beginners to experts are welcome to participate, said Paul Herrera, a student and apprentice of Father Catich and member of the Art Legacy League in Davenport that preserves and promotes the priest’s work. Some sessions will be online but most will take place on the St. Ambrose University campus.

This is the first time in five years the international calligraphic community will gather in person, said Herrera, who has attended and taught at past conferences.  The first conference took place 40 years ago at St. John University in Collegeville, Minnesota. Typically, large cities host the conference.


“It’s time to recognize our calligraphic ties to Father Catich — the scholar and teacher who gave so much to so many,” the Chicago Calligraphy Collective explained on its website. “And his magnificent archive of work resides where he last taught for many years — St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa.”

Father Catich was a priest, calligrapher, musician, inscription cutter, consultant, artist and author. “His 40-year career as a priest and professor was marked by significant contributions to the fields of letterforms, calligraphy and religious art,” the website states. “Most calligraphers know him from his book and research on the Roman Trajan inscription entitled ‘The Origin of the Serif.’ But that’s only the tip of the iceberg when describing all that Father Catich was and the importance of his work and legacy in the calligraphic world. We are delighted to be able to showcase his work, and we’re sure you will be delighted to be in his past environment.”

Before discerning a call to the priesthood, Catich was a sign painter in Chicago, “which was dangerous work,” Herrera said. He landed the opportunity to attend the Art Institute of Chicago before moving on to St. Ambrose College, where he directed the college’s band and taught art classes as a way to pay for his education. A recommendation from renowned artist Grant Wood led to a partial scholarship to the University of Iowa for Catich. After attending seminary in Rome, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1938. Returning to St. Ambrose, Father Catich founded the art department where he taught until his death in 1979.

Father Catich is known outside the Quad-City community as an “international authority in stone incising, typography and stained glass fabrication,” Herrera said. He also served as a consultant to Encyclopedia Britannica and the Los Angeles County Museum.

The Davenport conference offers full-week classes, two sets of half-week classes (series A and B) and online classes. Artists sign up for their top choices but seating is limited and some classes are full.

Classes include “Gothic Cursive & Medieval Vellum” (for intermediate artists); “Drawn to Letters: A Dutch Approach” (intermediate/advanced artists); “Stone Lettering” with Herrera (intermediate); and “Sharpening the Eye While Training the Hand: Watercolor” (all levels).

Herrera will give the keynote address, “The Legacy of Edward M. Catich,” on June 23 at 7:30 p.m. The struggles and successes of Father Catich are told through photographs, video and examples of his artwork. Attendees will follow young Catich through his training in an orphanage, experiences as a sign painter in Al Capone’s Chicago, adventures at the North American College in Rome and his studies of the Imperial Roman lettering on Trajan’s column.

For more information about the conference, visit

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