October 16, 2014

How strong was he?

Friar’s famous ancestor still larger than life


When Fr. Don Holtgrewe was a lad, “People would ask me if I was related to The Strong Man.” And Don would proudly respond, “He was my great-uncle.”

The question comes up when Friar Don poses for a portrait in front of the city’s newest mural in Over-the-Rhine. “He was my great-uncle,” Don tells a family of four who stop to admire a gargantuan likeness of Henry Holtgrewe, a turn-of-the-century celebrity renowned for feats of strength. His legend lives on through the vision of the ArtWorks organization and the talent of graphic artist Jason Snell, who designed a 2,000-square-foot mural that runs the entire length of a building at 1215 Vine St. Its creation was recounted in the Cincinnati Enquirer in August (see www.cincinnati.com).

The real Henry Holtgrewe.“He was a colorful character, a very interesting man,” says Don, who never met Henry (he died in 1917) but knows all about him. “My grandpa who we lived with for a while [in South Fairmount] was his brother.” A saloon-keeper by trade, Henry was the strongest man in Cincinnati – maybe the world. He once “lifted a barrel of water with one finger with a man seated on it,” according to a 1903 story in the Cincinnati Enquirer. He hoisted a 3,000-pound barbell onto his shoulders with three men hanging onto it. In 1904 he invited the Cincinnati Reds and their opponents to stand on an elevated platform at the ballpark. Crawling underneath, he lifted the lot of them, all 4,000 pounds, off the ground.

Strength of character

But what Don wants people to know and remember is, “He was a great fellow, a good man,” or as the mural attests, a “Gentle Giant”.  “Although he was extremely strong” – able to eject several rowdies at once from his Vine Street saloon – “he never wanted to harm anybody,” Don says. “He once got into a wrestling match with a guy and broke his collarbone and said, ‘I’ll never do that again.’”

Born in 1862 in Hanover, Germany, Henry came to Cincinnati’s West End at the age of 22. Newspapers soon took note of the weight-lifting prowess he displayed at beer halls and theaters. An unimposing 5-foot-8-inches tall, Henry weighed 270 pounds and was built like a barrel.

“I love talking about him,” says Don, who came to check out the mural with his twin sister, Evelyn Kettner. Among their favorite stories is one in which Henry was challenged to pick up weights that were secretly tied to the floor of a stage. “Was ist das?” the Strong Man asked in consternation, then proceeded to wrench the weights from their moorings, pulling up part of the floor in the process.

Top, Don Holtgrewe at his great-uncle’s mural; above, a family taking in the sights stops to chat with Don and his sister, Evelyn.

Email To a Friend

Loading the page...
Loading the page...

All in the family

Asked to ham it up, Don flexes his biceps in front of the mural. There’s little resemblance, in fact, but “I think I inherited some of his strength,” says Don. Something they do share: As a local barkeep, Henry probably heard his share of confessions.

Evelyn and Don linger at the mural, admiring the artwork, chuckling over stories they recognize. Their pride in Henry’s achievements is obvious. But it’s more than that: They’ve always known their ancestor, a local legend, was also a great guy.

Now everyone else will know.

ESC meetings give us a broader viewProvincial ministers gathered at St. Francis Retreat House in Alberta, Canada, for an ESC meeting hosted by Christ the King Province.

English Speaking Conference meetings are always interesting and productive.  I always leave them feeling very supported and with a bigger view, a broader sense of what is happening beyond the borders of our Province.

Meetings of the conference (composed of the Provincials from the Provinces in the U.S., Canada, England, Ireland, Malta, and Lithuania) are held twice yearly, in April and October.  We take turns hosting the meetings, rotating the locations.  Our recent meeting was held at Mt. St. Francis Retreat House in Cochrane, Alberta, Canada, sponsored by Christ the King Province.  (SJB is scheduled to host again in April of 2016.)

We always work hard, but we usually have one free day, and this year we were able to see the incredible Canadian Rockies at Banff National Forest; we took gondolas to the top of a mountain with jaw-dropping and majestic views, and were able to walk around the idyllic aquamarine colored Lake Louise.  One of the very good things we do is provide an opportunity for each Provincial to share about what is happening in his personal and provincial life.  Since the last meeting there are three new Provincials (Kevin Mullen, HN, Jack Clark Robinson, OLG, and Richard Grech, Malta).  Marc Le Goanvec (St. Joseph, Montreal) and I were re-elected.

Their day off found them at Lake Louise in Banff National Forest.Discernment process

Before the whole ESC gathering, the U.S. Sub-conference met to move forward our conversation about restructuring.  Each Province has proposed a friar to participate in a discernment process to be held Oct. 28-29 in Chicago.  The SJB representative is Page Polk.  We also appointed Dominic Perri to be our facilitator and Jack Clark Robinson (OLG) to be the Provincials’ liaison to the process.  At the discernment, they will decide which two or three friars, working full-time, will lead the process.  We hope that they will live together to facilitate good communication and be ready to go by Jan. 1.  The Provincials are the ultimate decision makers, and will meet with the task force at the end of February in Albuquerque.  We also asked Tom Washburn (IC), our Executive Secretary, to chair a committee working on increasing our communication efforts as U.S. Franciscans.

Our ESC agenda covered many areas.  We were blessed with the presence of our General Minister, Michael Perry, who updated us on happenings in the Order at large and the plans for the upcoming General Chapter next summer.

We spent much time preparing for the General Chapter which will take place in Assisi from May 10 - June 7.  We submitted our nominations for Minister General, Vicar General, and Definitor General.  We submitted names for a lay delegate to represent the Conference and an English speaking friar to be one of the Moderators of the Chapter.  (Announcement of names will take place after those nominated have been notified and consulted.)  We decided that Tom Washburn and Alvin Te (both IC) will accompany us in Assisi in order to communicate on a regular basis with all the Provinces back home.  Tom did a great job with this at the last General Chapter.


— Fr. Jeff Scheeler, OFMEmail To a Friend




Manuel Viera at his Arizona office.

  • “It has been a good week,” according to Fr. Manuel Viera. Tuesday, he gave a presentation on “Sacramental Issues in Ministry to Hispanics and the Sacraments” at the annual convention of the Canon Law Society of America in St. Louis, Mo. Wednesday, he was elected Vice-President of the 1,200-member organization, which promotes the study and application of canon law. “It’s a lot of work and I’m excited about it,” he says of the position he will fill in addition to his day job as Judicial Vicar and Canonical Affairs Specialist with the Diocese of Tucson, Ariz. Besides supporting the work of the President of CLSA (Michael Souckar, JCD), Manuel will oversee the work of committees of the Society (such as Government and Tribunals). He automatically becomes President-Elect and will assume that role in 2015. “It would entail some international travel, especially during the year of the Presidency.” CLSA leaders also promote dialogue with other ESC conferences such as Canada, England/Ireland and New Zealand. Given Manuel’s Spanish-speaking background, he also hopes to establish a relationship with the Canon Law Society of Mexico.

Email To a Friend

  • After 49 years in the Philippines, Fr. Elgar Nadon will return to the United States Nov. 9 and will be living in Cincinnati. Welcome home, Elgar!
  • Roger Bacon High School invites friars to be part of its annual Open House for prospective students this Sunday, Oct. 19, from 1-3 p.m. “It is always desirable to have as many habited friars present as possible,” says Br. Gene Mayer, Advancement Specialist.
  • Italian tenor Alessandro Brustenghi, the first friar to sign a recording contract with a major record label (Decca), performed Oct. 10 at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington, D.C., as part of the area’s St. Francis in the Schools Program. According to the Monastery, “The program is designed as a non-denominational civics lesson about Francis of Assisi and also as an outdoor celebration of the abundant beauty of the earth that was so loved by this remarkable figure….”  Watch the program at myfranciscan.
  • When the Bloomington Pantagraph covered the 50th anniversary of the Central Illinois Radio Society, they naturally interviewed model aircraft enthusiast Ric Schneider of St. Mary’s Parish. “It’s a great hobby,” said Fr. Ric, who has taught hundreds of kids to fly radio-controlled planes over the years. “It’s perfect for families, and it’s just a lot of fun. I really enjoy it. When I’m flying, it keeps my eyes heavenward and when I crash, it’s humbling.” Read more at: radio-control.

Fr. Augustus Tolton

  • With the investigation into the life and virtues of Fr. Augustus Tolton closed as of Sept. 29, the cause for his canonization moves to the Vatican. Fr. Tolton, the first black priest in the United States, is among four African-Americans whose sainthood causes are being considered, according to Catholic News Service. His cause was opened by Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago in 2010. Born a slave in 1854, Augustus was encouraged to discern a vocation to the priesthood by Franciscan priests at St. Francis College (now Quincy University). He died in 1897 at the age of 43. Since 1990, Catholic Theological Union in Chicago has administered the Augustus Tolton Scholars Program, which prepares black Catholics for ministerial leadership in the Church.