February 1, 2018
100 years later, the photos are finished
BY TONI CASHNELLI
Collegium FranciscanumLast winter Frank Jasper lifted the lid of a weathered wooden box to find it crammed with manila envelopes. Inside were dozens of glass negatives, the plates that preceded film in capturing images with a camera.
For a shutterbug like Frank, it doesn't get any better than this.
He processed the plates, and the results are some remarkable photos: crisp, black-and-white pictures of long-ago students and friar teachers at St. Francis Seraph Gymnasium (German for "school") in Cincinnati. Dating from 1908 to 1936, they bring the past to life in a way that text never could.
Above, Frank Jasper and Jim DaMico examine negatives; top, photo was labeled “J Class 1908”;CarolKen Kluener
Frank jumped right in, reviewing the negatives with several friars and quickly determining their provenance, the old school at Liberty and Republic (formerly Bremen Street). Most are class photos with either a date scrawled on the image or a tiny chalkboard propped somewhere in the frame. "I discovered that most of them were from the early part of the 20th century," says Frank. A few recognizable friars appear in photo after photo. Urban Freundt, rector of the school and later Provincial Minister, often sits front and center. Even more ubiquitous is Ermin "Uncle Joe" Schneider, whose life was all about teaching (see Page 5). Senior friars Warren Zeisler and Cyprian Berens were able to identify a number of other teachers.
Jim DaMicoThe seminary’s 1934-’35 graduating class; Bernardin Schneider is third from left, top row.
Completing his term as Vicar and working around his sabbatical, he made two sets of about 100 pictures, all printed on fiber-based, double-weight paper (cost: $1.50 per sheet). Frank painstakingly printed names on the backs of most, adding many black lines for unnamed friars. Most are standard, posed photos shot outside the school building, potted palms adding interest at the periphery. "They'd only take one picture a year, and hang it on the wall," Frank says of their standard practice.
In the style of the times the subjects are solemn, frozen like statues to allow slow-shuttered cameras to do their work. Friars are generally expressionless. Young men dressed to the nines in ties, some in knickers, stare intently at the camera. Keeping them still long enough to take the pictures could not have been easy. In one photo about 80 kids surround the friar faculty - with not a blurry face among them.
Several pictures show the student orchestra and band in uniform, proudly holding their instruments. A few are of picnics, unidentified pastoral scenes and construction at St. Francis Seminary in the 1920s.
Above, Ermin with students in 1911; top, Ermin Schneider, back row, in an early photo with the bandMax Gartner
What will become of the negatives? Along with copies of the photos, "I'm giving them to the Museum Center in case there's a way to revive them electronically," says Frank, admitting there are easier digital options for preservation.
But for a purist, developing the negatives was a labor of love. "It's capturing our history and preserving it for another century." Rest assured, "These prints will last at least 100 years."
"The Order of St. Francis, for the honor of God and the welfare of mankind, whose members took a prominent part in the civilization of America since its discovery by Columbus, made many and great sacrifices for the attainment of the same purposes in the United States."Now they have resolved on opening a Catholic Gymnasium in the Queen City of the West, with the object first, to give the boys of Catholic families a welcome opportunity to attain a well-grounded higher education, the necessity of which is becoming more and more apparent in this country every day, in a less expensive manner, and secondly, to foster in them the dormant spirit and vocation to the priesthood and the religious state, and to prepare them for it by the requisite religious and scientific education."
-From a 36-page handwritten translation of the 1908 German Golden Jubilee of St. Francis Seraph College in the Franciscan Archives
Ermin Schneider, OFMWhen he died in 1959 his newspaper obituary read: "Father Ermin is said to have taught nearly all the priests in the Cincinnati Franciscan Province." They did not exaggerate.
Ordained in 1907, Ermin Schneider spent his life as a friar in the classroom: 17 years at St. Francis Gymnasium (Collegium Franciscanum) on Republic Street, and 35 years at St. Francis Seminary in Mt. Healthy. He taught music, elocution, dramatics, mathematics, English and German. Wrote one biographer: "He was always lovingly - not disrespectfully - known as 'Uncle Joe'."
"He was definitely a character," says Tom Speier, a seminary grad. Students parodied him mercilessly - he spoke out of one side of his mouth - "and I'm sure he knew this was going on."
Ermin organized the student band and conducted it for years. He wrote and directed plays. He was moderator of the Reading Circle for almost 50 years. "During the 1940s and '50s he was the famous professor of German," according to his files. "He is remembered for his ability to restore order in the classroom by a mere personal appearance without the use of words."
As a teacher, "He was not dynamic," says Hilarion Kistner, a student in German classes. "But he was good at repetition." And how. "We spent one whole year on nothing but irregular verbs," says Tom, who admits he retained next to nothing of the language.
In another of Ermin's classes, "We had to stand up and give a quotation" and its source, Tom remembers. "If you could memorize, you got good grades." So students found a quote they could use - and re-use. "They would stand up and say, 'Knowledge is power. Bacon.'"
As often as they repeated it, "He never said anything, never outlawed it," Tom says. In grading his students, "I think he was rather generous."
(Photographer Frank Jasper tells how he tackled the glass plate negatives project.)
In processing the prints, I made several contact prints of each subject. Many group shots had two negatives and I only processed one. I cleaned the non-emulsion side of the glass with water to remove the years of grime. I blew off the emulsion side with a small hand air blower. I processed the prints using the best archival techniques that I could attain using my equipment. I used Ilford Multigrade Fiber Based Glossy Paper.
The four-flap folders are acid-free, as are the sheets facing the emulsion. I copied the notation from the original envelope to the prints and to the folders containing the negatives. Several pictures refer to "Graduates 1908," however, they are not the same students. So, there is an error in identifying these early groups.
I produced a set of prints for the Franciscan Archives and for the Museum Center to accompany the negatives. I am continuing to identify friars with the help of our seniors and by comparing pictures with the Necrology. The Franciscan Archives set of pictures has the most complete notation of people and places.
-Frank Jasper, OFM
The new seminary nears completion in Mt. Healthy.Fathers Archangelus GstirFrancis de Paul Kolb
(Taken from the 1908 Golden Jubilee of St. Francis Seraph College and A Fact Sheet of Cincinnati Franciscans. Thanks to Archivist Ron Cooper and Sr. Daria Mitchell for their research.)
PHOTO BY MARK SOEHNER, OFMThere’s King Cake, beads galore and carnival floats.David Crank
This week brought the entire Provincial Council down to New Orleans, where friars have been at the Parish of St. Mary of the Angels since 1925. Here the community is energetic about their work in the Ninth Ward. There are many forms of outreach, and of course, the faith community itself that lives out its commitment to Christ in many ways. The Council joined this friary and Mark Gehret from Greenwood, Miss., to have a "cluster meeting" discussing their lives and the projects of the Province.
Council has been doing its five-year plan and getting into the details of how Restructuring and Revitalization can happen. We are hoping to help our Guardians and Local Ministers in the Revitalizing effort. Someone recently asked me: "Mark, do you think that we're doing a bad job?" No! But I am of the belief that just as the Church is in a semper reformanda position, even more, should we as Friars Minor want to be reforming, revitalizing, handing over the control of our lives back to God? In this season of saying farewell to the flesh, might this be a time to "revitalize, not just rearrange" (as John Barker says) our lives? Ash Wednesday just might be such a time to remind our bodies, hearts and lives of the One who loves us.
– Fr. Mark Soehner, OFM
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The journey of those plates follows the evolution of the school from the Gymnasium to Collegium Franciscanum to Above, Frank Jasper and Jim DaMico examine negatives; top, photo was labeled “J Class 1908”;St. Francis Seminary (see Page 3). They traveled from Over-the-Rhine to Mt. Healthy, where the "new" school was opened in 1924. Rescued from a dumpster in the 1990s, the negatives survived numerous moves and prolonged storage, landing in the home of Carol and Ken Kluener. The Klueners called Frank last winter asking "if I might have any interest in a box of 8-by-10 glass negatives they had in their basement."
Above, Ermin with students in 1911; top, Ermin Schneider, back row, in an early photo with the bandPhotos were taken with a large press camera, Frank thinks, the kind widely used until the 1960s. "They would line up the picture and pull out the black sheet from the base that's holding the glass negative, then go in front and remove the lens cap. The light would get the image, then they would cover the lens back up." Some were probably shot by Max Gartner, the photographer at the seminary. "He taught many seminarians how to process pictures. Someone else captured the earlier images since Max was not stationed at the seminary in those days."
The new seminary nears completion in Mt. Healthy.Thanks to the efforts of Fathers Archangelus Gstir and Francis de Paul Kolb, St. Francis Seraph Gymnasium opened on Oct. 4, 1858, after a Solemn High Mass at St. John Church in Over-the-Rhine.