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Saxophones and Angels

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

I grew up in a strict Lutheran home. We all called the tail end of roasted chicken "the Pope's nose." But on one thing, my mother and the Pope would have agreed completely: angels ought not to be playing the saxophone. "The devil's instrument," my mother said.

I know the Pope felt the same way only because of Father Edward M. Catich, who founded the art department at St. Ambrose College in Davenport and taught there for forty years. Father Catich grew up at Mooseheart, an orphanage near Aurora, Illinois, where he was taught a useful trade: sign painting. His teacher intended for him to make a living painting window signs for Marshall Fields. Instead, the young man was soon attracted to religious art. After a stint at the Chicago Art Institute and ordination as a priest in 1938, Father Catich found himself assigned to St. Ambrose College. Here he became well-known for his calligraphy through the hundreds of students he taught to respect that ancient and traditional art. He branched out into mosaics and stained glass as well, designing several churches and parochial schools.

It was through these that he came to the attention of the Vatican. The practicality Father Catich learned at Mooseheart showed through in his art. "This earth is the Lord's, and everything that is in it," said Father Catich, and that included saxophones and trombones as well as harps. That is why then graved angels on the slate walls of Regina High School in Iowa city are playing saxophones. And why Father Catich gave Christ a shave and a haircut in several of his stained-glass windows, and also a tee-shirt and trousers. That's why Pontius Pilate leans back in an office chair.

When the Vatican found out, they were not pleased. They ordered Catich to stop. The good father was not about to do so. Christ is lord of the modern world, too, he said. And so, the saxophones and trombones continued to play.

All this has made me a little more eager to get to heaven than I have been recently. I want to see my mother, the Pope, and Father Catich sitting together at an afternoon concert in the park—waiting for the saxophone angel to improvise.

Rock Island Lines is supported by grants from the Illinois Humanities Council, the Illinois Arts Council—a state agency—and by Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.