Professor Uses Sabbatical to Explore Bishop Loras' Life

BY Maggie Writt ('12)

The Most Reverend Mathias Loras, first Bishop of Dubuque, was an extraordinary man, one most people today would describe as a visionary and a great Catholic leader of his time. Yet few people have heard about the great impact the founder of Loras College had not only on Dubuque, but much of the Midwest. In order to help people better understand the kind of man Bishop Loras was, Craig Schaefer, professor of communication arts, is producing a documentary film that will that will tell his legacy.

With the help of a $15,000 grant from the Humanities Iowa program, Schaefer jumped at the opportunity to begin a project based on the book written by the late Loras professor Dr. Thomas Auge. Man of Deeds tells the story of Bishop Loras’ life from his upbringing in Lyon, France, to his move to the frontier lands of Dubuque. Using the book as inspiration, Schaefer’s film will combine re-creation footage and archival images to help audiences understand the life of Bishop Loras on the Midwestern frontier.

In addition to shooting throughout rural Iowa and Wisconsin, Schaefer and producer Ted Rosean (’07) spent several days filming and researching in Lyon, France, Bishop Loras’ hometown. Lyon is 250 miles south of Paris.

They were welcomed to the area by Bishop Loras’ great-great-great-great nephew Regis Loras and his wife Ann, and visited many of the sites influential in the formation of the bishop. Other Loras family members, including Bernadette, Yves, Phillip, and Florence also guided Schaefer and Rosean to locations in and around Lyon.

Mathias Loras was born the tenth of 11 children in 1792 to an affluent Catholic family during the French Revolution. At the age of one his father was beheaded in the town plaza, an area that Schaefer was able to visit while on his trip. Following such tragedy the Loras family still continued to be involved in the French Revolution, hiding Catholic priests in their home during times when it would cost a person his or her life to pledge loyalty to God over France. Perhaps such Catholic role models are what helped Loras discern priesthood and enter the seminary. Still standing, one of the seminaries Loras attended is where he met good friend and eventual saint, John Vianney. Schaefer visited Vianney’s home in Ars and heard stories about their friendship. According the Schaefer, the Loras family continues to be quite proud of their ancestor.

Back in Dubuque, Schaefer continues to film and research for the documentary. He is working extensively with Mike Gibson, Loras archivist and director of the Center for Dubuque History; the Reverend Loras Otting, archivist for the Archdiocese of Dubuque; Amy Lorenz, Ph.D., professor of modern languages and culture and editor of Man of Deeds; and Bob Klein, who compiled many of Loras’ letters into the book, Foundations. Ultimately, Schaefer’s film will convey legacy of the man whose name many know only by the college he founded.

Schaefer plans to complete the documentary by June 2010, with showings throughout Dubuque to follow.

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