Stephen Richard Kerbs (C '67) Exhibit Area
February - March
In conjunction with Jesuit Heritage Week
2006, Lauinger Library displayed items
from its Archives and Manuscript Collections
work of the artist Brother Francis C. Schroen,
While completing her master’s thesis for a degree
in liberal studies, long-time Secretary of the University,
Virginia Keeler, conducted an in depth study of Brother
Schroen and the decorative work he completed in Healy
Hall around the turn of the century. The Georgetown campus
was just one of the places Brother Schroen worked as
a member of the Jesuit order. Creating beautiful interiors,
he earned a reputation as one of the most skilled decorators
of his time.
The exhibit consists largely of photographs, old and
new, of the decorative painting in rooms
of Georgetown University's Healy Hall
such as Carroll Parlor, Hirst Reading Room,
and Gaston Hall. Included are items from
research materials, which were donated
to the library’s
Special Collections after her death in 2004.
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Decorated: The Work of Brother Francis
C. Schroen, S.J.
Virginia “Ginny” Mary
This 1978 yearbook photo shows Virginia
Keeler, who began working for Georgetown in 1953. She
advanced to the position of Secretary of the University,
the post which she held until her retirement in 1997.
Seven years before she retired, she earned her master’s
degree in liberal studies. She chose, for her thesis,
to conduct an in depth study of Brother Francis C. Schroen,
S.J., the artist who decorated the building in which
she worked. In her project proposal she stated, “It
would be the focus of my project to endeavor to collect
on slides what survives of his work, and to explore his
life.” After her death, her research papers, including
150 slides of Schroen’s work, were donated to the
Special Collections of Georgetown University Library
where they now reside as part of the Manuscripts Collections.
Search for Freedom, and Freedom Found: The Life and Art
of Brother Francis C. Schroen, S.J.
Master’s Thesis and Project Proposal submitted by Virginia
M. Keeler to the School for Continuing Education, Georgetown
Francis C. Schroen, S.J. (1857-
Born in Bavaria, Francis C. Schroen, S.J., was brought to Baltimore by his parents
as an infant. His father was a tailor and wished Francis to enter the same field.
However, after Francis left school, he worked as a house painter, earning a reputation
as a skilled decorator who specialized in the use of plastics. After a series
of tragedies – the death of two of his children and then of his wife in
childbirth – and financial setbacks, he applied for admission as a Jesuit
lay-brother. Continuing his decorating work as a member of the Jesuit order,
he became one of the most noted church decorators and painters of his time. His
talents were utilized at Georgetown, Fordham, and Boston College, in the Cathedral
of Kingston, Jamaica, and in the Church of the Holy Name in New Orleans, among
other places. Brother Schroen is buried in the Jesuit Community Cemetery on campus.
Schroen and his daughter
This article from 1962 includes two images of Brother Schroen – one at
work and one listening to daughter, Margaret Mary, playing the harp. Records
in the University Archives indicate that Margaret Mary often played in Gaston
Hall while her father worked on its decoration.
Hall before Brother
work, ca. 1895
Hall as pictured in Georgetown,
Brother Schroen drew heavily on classical allegory in his work: “I have
always planned to have every figure mean something. It must be symbolic even
to the smallest scroll.” In Gaston, the crests of sixty Jesuit colleges
and universities from around the world decorate the ceiling line. At either end
of the stage wall, the painted figures of Athena and a classically draped male,
accompanied by the phrases, mens sana and in corpore sano, respectively, represent
the Jesuit precept of a sound mind in a sound body. But the central focus of
the stage wall and, indeed, the Hall are the two large murals above the stage.
These depict, to the left, Morality, Faith (holding a book displaying the Greek
letters alpha and omega) and Patriotism, and, to the right, Art, Alma Mater,
and Science. A significant feature of his work in Gaston – and the rest
of his work at Georgetown – is that is was done freehand, without the use
of a stencil. A newspaper account in 1902 noted that this:
. . . eliminates that mechanical exactness of repetition which detracts from
the artistic value of the design, a feature which gives medieval ornamentation
its peculiar beauty and value . . .
Reading Room, ca. 1910
Now home to the National Reference Center for Bioethics Literature, this space
on the first floor of Healy Hall’s south wing has a classical revival air.
The ceiling is elaborately painted. Coffers are formed by cross beams, fabricated
from plaster, which Brother Schroen grained to look like oak. Set into each coffer
are paintings in gilt frames. These represent the history of writing, depicting:
Mexican ideographs; Japanese; the Vedas (the sacred books of ancient India);
a Greek scroll; Babylonian bricks (cuneiform); Rock of Behistun (Persian); the
Ruthwell cross (runes); Hieroglyphs; the Book of Ulfilas (Gothic); a Hebrew scroll;
the Book of Kells; and the Douay Bible.
of Babylonian bricks (cuneiform)
painting, Hirsh Reading Room.
Parlor, ca. 1930.
Brother Schroen decorated the ceiling
of Healy Hall’s Carroll Parlor with
plaster applied in bas relief and then
painted. In the words of Virginia Keeler
the plaster was applied “much like
icing on a cake, raising the decoration
from the ceiling.”
Parlor, May 1989.
The walls of Carroll Parlor have been returned to their original color of pink.
A corner, shown here in detail, features the seal of the college and of the Jesuit
order along with garlands of laurel and honeysuckle.
Parlor, May 1989.
Hall Parlor Corridor, ca, 1904.
In addition to the ceiling and borders of the entrance hall, Brother Schroen
decorated the adjacent rooms including Carroll Parlor (doorway to the left in
this photo) and the parlor rooms which line the other side of the hall and are
now offices for campus ministry.
of Healy Hall Parlor Corridor, ca,
Renovations in the Parlor Corridor,
The walls of the hallway are now painted white, a change from the original
blue, but the ceiling and border decorations have all been preserved and restored.
of leaves, ceiling of Parlor Corridor,
According to Keeler, Brother Schroen carved these leaves freehand into the plaster.
In her thesis she quotes Father Patrick Cormican, S.J. who explains that the
decoration of the hall was an “introduction of the foliage of the most
predominant species of trees which are the pride of the renowned college walks – the
beech, the oak, the sycamore, the chestnut.”
staircase to the second floor of
For the decoration of the landing at the top of the staircase, already visually
striking with two arched windows, Brother Schroen linked learning, scienti,
and religion, religio, with the “Light of the World”, Lux Mundi,
inscribed on a blazing torch above the seal of the Jesuit Order. In the reception
area at the top of the stairs, he inscribed the Latin names of academic disciplines,
including theology, history, philology, biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics,
poetry, rhetoric, and medicine. They are framed by foliage carved in plaster.
Church of the Holy Name of Jesus,
New Orleans, Louisiana, October
Virginia Keeler traveled to New Orleans in 1987 and visited the site of Brother
Schroen’s last great work which he began in 1922. Schroen completed the
project and returned to Georgetown University in 1924 ill with cancer. Keeler
was hoping to find that his interior decorative work had survived the renovations
of The Holy Name church, which is contiguous to the Loyola University campus.
She was elated when she entered the sanctuary and confirmed that the paintings
above the altar were indeed done by Brother Schroen. She writes in her thesis, “What
still survives is the focus of the sanctuary, where the angels hold in their
hands the words of the ‘Gloria in Excelsis Deo’ around the altar,
with the rich red and gilt background.”
Church of the Holy Name of Jesus,
New Orleans, Louisiana, October
Having survived the renovations of the church, the paintings, along with the
entire city of New Orleans, were threatened in August 2005 when Hurricane Katrina
came ashore. Fortunately the structure was not damaged, and the news we received
from Laura Catherine Gallien, Associate Chaplain at Loyola University, was good: “The
church is truly a New Orleans treasure, and we are happy to report that it survived
Hurricane Katrina quite well!” The church was the site of the Loyola University
Convocation held on January 6, 2006 which welcomed students back to campus for
the reopening of the University.
Highly Decorated: The Work of Brother
Francis C. Schroen, S.J. was
prepared by Lynn Conway, University Archivist
and Heidi Rubenstein, Manuscripts Processor.
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