The Archivist’s Nook: A Very Merry Christmas from the Fathers Hartke and Magner

In 1972, Rev. Magner’s Christmas card transports us all the way to Jerusalem.
In 1972, Rev. Magner’s Christmas card transports us all the way to Jerusalem.

In the history of The Catholic University of America, two priests are truly larger than life:  Father Gilbert V. Hartke (1907-1986) and Rev. Msgr. James Magner (1901-1995). Both men served the University community for decades: 28 years for Magner and 37 years for Hartke. Best known for running CUA’s theater program, CUA’s playhouse still bears Father Hartke’s name today, while Rev. Magner was renown on campus for leading world wide tours to such far flung places as Mexico, India, and even behind the Iron Curtain.

“May the joys of Christmas shine brightly for you throughout the New Year.” Signed Lady Bird Johnson and Lyndon B. Johnson, 1967.
“May the joys of Christmas shine brightly for you throughout the New Year.” Signed Lady Bird Johnson and Lyndon B. Johnson, 1967.

Nothing makes these big personalities more human and relatable than the several dozen Christmas cards they’ve left behind. Rev. Magner meticulously kept track of the names and addresses of each person he sent a Christmas card to every year. Here at the Archives, we have many copies of his personal cards from the 1940s to the early 1970s. His cards have a somewhat trademark style drawing on his adventures abroad; they usually involve a solo shot of this well-traveled priest in an exotic location. Some of our favorites include Japan, Costa Rica, Alaska, Jerusalem, and Ireland.

Although show-biz priest Fr. Hartke did not create signature personal Christmas cards, he certainly received them! He received not just one, but a total of five White House Christmas cards from then President Lyndon B. Johnson and First Lady “Lady Bird” Johnson. These large, gold framed Christmas prints showing White House winter scenes remain part of the Archive’s museum collection today.

Merry Christmas to our High Flying Friend!
Merry Christmas to our High Flying Friend!

While we were unable to locate a presidential Christmas card among Rev. Magner’s papers, he did get three impressive hand drawn cards from a devoted pair of ladies. Whoever they were, Helen and Betty really captured something of Rev. Magner’s glamorous, jet setting lifestyle. In one card, a Hawaiian shirt clad Magner climbs into an old fashioned cocktail while another depicts a fez wearing Magner flying a magic carpet and simultaneously smoking hookah.

Judging by their Christmas cards, these two priests effortlessly lead interesting and adventurous lives. These ephemeral items give a glimpse into the personal lives of two men who redefined their roles as priests and did great things for Catholic University in the process. Whether making and receiving Christmas cards or living life to the fullest, each of these men did it in their own memorable way. Merry Christmas from the Fathers Hartke and Magner!

The Archivist’s Nook: The World is My Parish – James Magner

MagnerAd_1958
Advertisement for tour through Mexico and Guatemala, 1958.

One particular character looms large at the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives: the Rev. Msgr. James Magner (1901-1995). Born in Illinois, he attended Saint Mary of the Lake Seminary, was ordained in 1926 and completed his higher education in Rome at the Urban College of the Propaganda Fidei and the Academy of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Magner joined The Catholic University of America community in 1940, where he held many roles over the years including Assistant Secretary Treasurer, Director of the University Press, and Vice Rector for Business and Finance, as well as occasionally lectured. Retiring in 1968, he gave 28 years of service to the University.

That short biography fails to encompass the wide-ranging interests and hobbies of this unique – dare I say quirky – priest. An avid traveler and collector, the Archives received his estate in 1995, including many museum objects brought back from abroad. As Magner explained in his memoirs, “Travel has been among the most rewarding experiences of my life. I have regarded it, not merely as a holiday or change from my regular occupations, but really an opportunity to broaden and deepen my knowledge of the world and its people.” His lifelong love of travel began in the 1930s, as he explored Mexico. In the 1940s, Magner began organizing and leading seminar group tours of Mexico for Catholic University students. Today, the Archive’s Magner Museum Collection includes over one hundred Pre-Columbian objects brought back from Mexico and several other Central and South American countries, a selection of which are currently on display in the Archive’s reading room.

A page from James Magner’s collection of Soviet stamps.
A page from James Magner’s collection of Soviet stamps.

In the 1950s, Magner expanded his travels and tours to all over the world. In July of 1951, he conducted a world tour utilizing the latest exciting development in commercial travel: the airplane. As he explains in his memoir My Faces & Places Volume II, 1929-1953:

“I undertook this tour around the world by air, as something of a stunt, but it turned out to be one of the most exciting and educational experiences in my life. It was like a review of the history of the great cultures of the world compressed into a page. I truly felt that I have gone Jules Verne one better.”

Upon his return, Magner gave a lecture, “Around the World in Forty Days”, on his experience. This lecture gives a tantalizing glimpse into the politics and headlines of the time, including the rising tensions in Palestine and between Pakistan and India.

Riding an elephant in India, 1978.
Riding an elephant in India, 1978.

By the 1960s, Magner had added quite the roster of countries to his summer tours, including many under the sway of the Soviet Union. Magner had personally been traveling within the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc since 1956. When asked why he made these daring trips, he explained he wanted to see for himself what was going on behind the Iron Curtain. These excursions occurred largely without incident, with one exception. Prior to his 1965 tour of Czechoslovakia, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, the Polish consular office initially declined to give Magner a visa. According to Magner, “apparently they feared that I might be on a secret mission or wondered why a Catholic priest had to go with the group.”

James Magner, priest, scholar, collector, traveler, and university administrator, retired to West Palm Beach, Florida in 1968. Not one to sit ideally by even if retired, he served two parishes in the area as a visiting priest, wrote his memoirs, and continued to amass a collection of books, art and artifacts. December 30, 1994, Rev. Msgr Magner passed away at the ripe old age of 93. He shared his experiences abroad not only with those he brought on his tours, but also the many attendees of his lectures where he often shared films of his travels. His legacy lives on at the Archives through his personal papers and museum objects as well as his donation of the historically significant Iturbide-Kearney Family Collection. On The Catholic University of America campus, a building bears his name in the Centennial Village residential community.