Edward Catich

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Father Edward M. Catich
Edward Catich
Catich teaching at St. Ambrose University circa 1970
Born 1906
Stevensville, Montana
Died April 14, 1979
Davenport, Iowa
Nationality  United States
Known for education, calligraphy

Father Edward M. Catich (1906 – April 14, 1979) was an American Roman Catholic priest, teacher, and calligrapher. He is noted for the fullest development of the thesis that the inscribed Imperial Roman capitals of the Augustan age and afterward owed their form (and their characteristic serifs) wholly to the use of the flat brush, rather than to the exigencies of the chisel or other stonecutting tools.


He was the third of six children born in Stevensville, Montana, and raised in Butte, to a Serbo-Croatian copper miner family. His parents died when he was 11, and he and three brothers (including his twin) were taken by train to the orphanage of the Loyal Order of Moose, the Mooseheart campus near Aurora, Illinois.

At the orphanage he apprenticed under sign-writer Walter Heberling. After graduating high school in 1924, Catich toured with a Mooseheart band, and then went to Chicago, where he played music in bands, studied art at the Chicago Art Institute, and supported himself as a union sign-writer. Catich attended St. Ambrose College from 1931 to 1934, where he worked as the leader of the school band. He received a masters degree in art at University of Iowa in Iowa City.

He went to Rome in 1935 to study at Pontifical Gregorian University for Holy Orders, where he also made a study of archaeology and paleography. He was ordained in 1938 and returned to Iowa to teach art, math, engineering, and music at St. Ambrose. As priest, he served the Diocese of Peoria parishes of Atkinson and Hooppole in Illinois.

He founded the Art Department at St. Ambrose University and taught there for forty years, until his death in 1979. The Davenport, Iowa, university now holds some 4,000 of his works, many from his legacy to Professor John Schmits, at the Edward M. Catich Memorial Gallery. The gallery was originally his studio and press at the Galvin Fine Arts Center and was built with a donation from Hallmark Cards, where several of his students worked.

He had ties to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Encyclopædia Britannica, and the Houghton Library at Harvard, and was a founder of the Catholic Art Association.


His calligraphy and stonecutting work won Catich an international reputation, and he created many slate inscriptions using his brush and chisel technique.

He created two typefaces, Petrarch and Catfish.

Many of his books were published under his own press, The Catfish Press, operated out of his studio at the university.

Besides calligraphy, Catich was accomplished at liturgical art, working in slate, stained glass, watercolor, and print.

He played the trumpet, cello, and harmonica.

Other institutions which hold his work are

The origin of the serif[edit]

Photograph taken c. 1920 shows graffiti from Pompeii with painted Roman square capitals. Most of the graffiti was destroyed during World War II.

Studying in Rome during his novitiate in the late 1930s, he made a thorough study of the letter forms of the epigraphy on Trajan's Column.

While the brushed-origin thesis had been proposed in the nineteenth century, Father Catich, having worked as a union sign painter, made a complete study and proposed a convincing ductus by which the forms were created, using a flat brush and then chisel. He promulgated his views in two works, Letters Redrawn from the Trajan Inscription in Rome and The Origin of the Serif: Brush Writing and Roman Letters.

While the thesis is not universally accepted, electioneering posters excavated in Pompeii show unincised Imperial Roman capital titles (followed by body text in Rustic capitals) brush-painted on certain walls[citation needed].



  • Edward M. Catich. "A Priest Speaks on Chalice-Design." The Catholic Art Quarterly, volume 14, number 2. 1951.
  • Edward M. Catich. "Sentimentality in Christian Art" The Furrow 10 (1959)
  • Edward M. Catich. Letters Redrawn from the Trajan Inscription in Rome. The Catfish Press, 1961.
  • Edward M. Catich. Eric Gill: His social and artistic roots. The Prairie Press, 1964.
  • Edward M. Catich. The Origin of the Serif: Brush writing and Roman letters. The Catfish Press, 1968.
  • Edward M. Catich. Reed, Pen and Brush: Alphabets for writing and lettering. The Catfish Press, 1972.
  • Edward M. Catich. The Trajan Inscription: An essay. Society of Printers, 1973.


  1. ^ Burger, Mary Lou (1976-06-02). "Lawrence Lee Poem/Plaque to be Dedicated at Pitt" (Press release). Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Department of News and Publications. Retrieved 2011-05-21. 
  2. ^ "The McMullen Award - SAU Quasquicentennial: St. Ambrose University". Davenport, Iowa. Retrieved 22 November 2008.