STURGEON BAY — As a seventh-grader at St. Joseph School (now merged to become St. John Bosco), Julie Gebauer was given a gift she has loved to this very day: a bottle of ink and a calligraphy pen.
“We had a neat seventh grade teacher. Sr. Hilda taught calligraphy and everyone got that jar of India ink and a number 2 dipping pen,” she said. “I found calligraphy the easiest and most natural thing ever.”
So, while some students attempted to learn the art only because it was required for art class, Gebauer embraced it. Later, as an art education major at UW-Madison, Gebauer had to take calligraphy again, this time learning how to write in 12 different fonts. Each week, the students had to turn in a paper not typed, but written with calligraphy.
“I got A’s on every one,” Gebauer said.
Although she became a teacher who worked in both public and Catholic schools, and truly loved that career, calligraphy became an avocation, proving true the words of Frederick Buechner, an American theologian-writer, who said, “The place where God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger coincide.”
While it may not have exactly been deep hunger behind it, people appreciated Gebauer’s gift — and they did call. Over the years, she has been the calligraphy artist behind wedding invitations, plaques in churches around Door County, diplomas, sacramental certificates, and inscriptions on books. Often, she is paid, but just as often, she is not.
One woman in the community has her inscribe 12 books each year for her grandchildren, making the presentation of each book an event. As an educator, Gebauer likes being a part of a tradition that helps foster a love of reading.
What probably gets the most notice, even if most people don’t know who’s responsible, is the larger-than-life-sized scroll that hangs in the front of Corpus Christi Church each November, inscribed with the names of the people who were buried from the parish the previous year. Often, after Mass, more than one person is seen quietly reading the list, remembering friends or family members, happy to see them recognized.
“I practice first,” Gebauer said, reaching for a rolled-up, scratched-up version of that scroll. When unrolled, it shows how she lettered the names once or sometimes twice, gauging the spacing, making sure she knew how each one would fit before she started the actual scroll. If she does make a mistake, she knows she can start over.
“That’s why I don’t like inscribing Bibles,” she said. “What if I goof up? I couldn’t do it over.”
Gebauer said she enjoys doing the very best she can on the scroll as her way of honoring those who have died.
“I can do it, I like to do it, and when you work with your hands, it’s a kind of praying,” she said.
Gebauer has always been grateful that her seventh grade teacher introduced her to something she could be good at. Later, she read a quote from American developmental psychologist Howard Gardner, who said that everyone is good at something, and that it’s a teacher’s job to help find it.
“When they do, teachers give hope,” Gebauer said.
Gebauer’s artistic skills aren’t limited to calligraphy, and they aren’t limited to income-generating projects. Every year she paints a tile for the Community Mosaic Project that raises funds for the Hardy Gallery in Ephraim. She paints for herself from her travels, and she helped design a window in honor of a retiring principal when Corpus Christi School was enlarged to become St. John Bosco. Gebauer had taught at Corpus Christi for 16 years.
She recalled that when it was time to teach art to her young Catholic school students, she often took them to the church, where they could view the building from the choir loft, or get close to areas usually seen from a distance in the pews.
Her faith runs like a sturdy thread through all her activities and where she chooses to devote her time. For 43 years, she has been a volunteer at Sturgeon Bay’s Miller Art Museum and for 20 years she has been an extraordinary minister of holy Eucharist. In addition, she’s on the board of the Door County Historical Society and involved in Rogue Theater in Sturgeon Bay.
Most recently, Gebauer became a member of the Seven Sister Apostolate, making a holy hour one day each week before the Blessed Sacrament for Corpus Christi’s pastor, Fr. Ryan Krueger.
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_message]Your Catholic Neighbor
Name: Julie Gebauer
Parish: Corpus Christi, Sturgeon Bay
Favorite saint: Catherine of Siena
Words to live by: “Love one another.” (Jn 13:34)[/vc_message][/vc_column][/vc_row]