Is a mystery yet a mystery when no one has discovered that it needs to be solved? Last week, the archives witnessed the end of a decades-long mystery. A mystery no one knew about. A story hidden on a slip of paper in the archives and a carefully crafted visage, familiar and essential to the history of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill, concealed by time and fading memory.
According to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “the world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes” (The Hound of the Baskervilles). The archivist’s work is sometimes like that of Sherlock Holmes. Most of the time, we know exactly where to look for clues and find answers, but sometimes, the most revelatory answers await in the most obvious places.
But our story begins with a rather providential discovery at Seton Hill University. Bill Black, University archivist, received a phone call that many archivists relish – “We’re moving an office and there is a closet full of ‘old stuff.’ What do we do?” Ah, here is, perhaps, where the mystery is given life. Among the effects of this closet was a portrait of an unidentified priest. Bill and his intern managed to freshen up the painting with a new backing and leave the cataloging for another day…
Nearly one month later, Casey Bowser, archivist for the Sisters of Charity, was in the midst of researching Sister Angelica Rooney’s connections to prominent American musicians. She was looking into a manuscript that was gifted by Adolph Foerster, a noted Pittsburgh composer and Sr. Angelica’s friend and teacher, to St. Joseph Academy in 1913. The manuscript is a copy of a rare autograph manuscript from German composer Richard Wagner (we are still solving this mystery!).
While searching for clues, Casey was inexplicably drawn to an office cabinet she hadn’t been through since her first week in the archives, nearly two years ago. You know the type…the drawer of the unknown. An accumulation of random material and files. The newly-minted archivist quickly balked at the material and left it alone, but perhaps, now, with more knowledge and expertise, the drawer of the unknown would become the gold mine.
A cursory review of the files did not produce the much-anticipated clue about the rare music manuscript, but something did catch Casey’s eye. A scrap of yellowed paper with the unique scrawl of a “famous” Sister of Charity, Sister Fides Glass. Sister Fides Glass, a talented and prolific artist, was also a real historian. Her handwriting can be seen throughout the archives on important community documents and in honor of commemorative events. Her calligraphy is instantly recognizable and she often presents valuable insights into the community’s early history.
Sister Fides’ note detailed the commission of a portrait of Father John Tuigg, the first priest-superior of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill at St. John’s, Altoona in 1870. Father Tuigg was the sisters’ first real friend and advocate. Although Bishop Michael Domenec asked the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati to establish a new community for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, it was Father Tuigg who requested the black caps, specifically. His own sister, Sister Beata Tuigg, and his niece, Sister Guillaume, were Sisters of Charity of New York. Father Tuigg would go on to become the 3rd bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh and he died only three weeks before Mother Aloysia Lowe.
The note reads, “This portrait of Bishop Tuigg was painted by Baron Benjamin Thomas Von Lutze at the request of Sr. Mary Inez Cronin. Baron Von Lutze was a German nobleman, a Catholic, who came to the U.S. by way of England after World War I. While staying in Altoona, Pa, he painted this portrait as well as a beautiful one of Prince-priest Gallitzin, which is now in the Chapel-house in Loretto. He also made an enlarge oil painting of the Gallitzin Coat-of-Arms. Sr. Mary Inez sent him to Seton Hill for a visit during which Sr. M. Fides Glass painted a landscape with him. He was better as a portrait painter. He later joined a Religious Order in the middle West, being known as Brother Thomas. The Sisters of Charity have lost trace of him. Mr. Christian J. Walter, President and founder of the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh, and noted artist, declared this portrait of Bishop Tuigg a splendid work of art.
Sr. M. Fides Glass (First hand information)”
Questions and curiosities raced through Casey’s head. What happened to this portrait of Bishop Tuigg? Where is it now? Who was Baron Von Lutze and what was his connection to the sisters? Sister Louise had always spoken of how she felt we ought to have a painting of Bishop Tuigg next to the portrait of Bishop Domenec in the Bishop’s Room at Caritas Christi. There was no portrait in the collection. We should have it back.
Sister Louise suggested that we check with the Cathedral in Altoona. Perhaps the painting was in the parish where Bishop Tuigg and the sisters worked together. On the phone, the parish secretary politely agreed to look into the matter, but her tone did not sound promising. Where else could it be? The Sisters of Charity archives and the Seton Hill College archives were once one and the same. What is it that Sr. Arthur Conan Doyle tells us? “When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth” (The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes). Maybe…just maybe. Casey thought to send Bill a quick e-mail to make sure he had never seen or heard of a portrait. Surely we would have known…
The next morning, Bill Black, with his smiling eyes and clever grin, walked through the archives door with a “surprise guest” – Bishop Tuigg! The portrait, unseen and unknown for decades, can finally be given its rightful place. All it took were a few folks taking note of the obvious, tracing the clues, and reconciling the answers.
But! The archivist’s work is never done. What else have we learned about this portrait of Bishop Tuigg? The artist, Baron Benjamin Thomas Von Lutze, has an interesting, albeit controversial history. Utilizing Ancestry.com and Newspapers.com, Casey was able to fill in the details on this history-mystery. Baron Benjamin Thomas Von Lutze was born in 1878 and immigrated to America in 1912 from Germany. Although he listed his occupation as a farmer, his family estate neighbored that of the Von Hindenburg family, a socially and politically powerful family with ties to the German Imperial Army, the Weimar Republic, and Adolf Hitler.
Upon arrival in New York, Von Lutze made his way to St. Joseph, Missouri where he worked as a clerk while attending Catholic Mass and participating in church choir at the Cathedral of St. Joseph. In 1917, Benjamin Von Lutze became a naturalized citizen. Two years, later, however, Benjamin found himself in a different social and political climate. Anti-German sentiment in the United States had grown steadily. Benjamin Von Lutze was accused of making disloyal remarks during the war and had refused to march in the Armistice Day parade in St. Joseph. A lengthy trial ensued and his citizenship was revoked. In January of 1920, the St. Joseph Observer recorded, “the young German who during his seven years residence in St. Joseph has not learned enough to become a real American, is now a man who is not a citizen of the United States.”
This German immigrant, stripped of his newly earned American citizenship, left Missouri shortly thereafter, but where would he go? A March 29, 1921 issue of the Altoona Tribune continues the story. “Benjamin Thomas von Lutze, a painter of considerable renown…has established a temporary studio [in Altoona],” the newspaper reported. It appears that Von Lutze, truly a talented painter, decided to make his way around the country making and selling his art. His stop in Altoona, of course, is the connection to the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill. We can now confirm that the painting was likely painted circa 1921.
Benjamin Von Lutze’s story, of course, doesn’t end there. He re-earned his citizenship in 1927 and he continued his artistic pursuits in Chicago, Illinois, where he settled. His World War II registration card indicates that he later worked in the Maps office of the Engineering Department in Chicago. As to his connection to a religious order, as noted by Sister Fides Glass, it appears that Von Lutze may have been connected with a Redemptorist Order sometime between 1921 and 1945, but the truth is unclear. Von Lutze died in Illinois in 1973.
Many questions remain. Did the Sisters of Charity know about Von Lutze’s encounters with German prejudice during WWI? Why has the portrait remained hidden from history for so long? However, we close the tale of the missing portrait. Perhaps a new day will bring a new mystery…and then, “the game is afoot” (Doyle, Adventure of the Abbey Grange).
Look for the Portrait of Bishop Tuigg, 1921, by Baron Benjamin Thomas Von Lutze to be installed in the Private Dining Room at Caritas Christi, the motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill.
Written by Casey Bowser, archivist