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Life History

Birth: Apr. 14, 1836
Death: Mar. 15, 1914

Adrian Wewer OSF., was a Brother Architect who entered the Franciscan Order in 1858, at Warendorf, Germany. Born and christened Antonius Wewer, he grew up in Harsewinkel-a small predominantly Roman Catholic town in Northern Germany. In 1862, when he and other German Confreres were sent to Teutopolis, Illinois, his Provincial Minister in Germany wrote of him, "Brother Adrian is an excellent religious and a skilled carpenter." Working with older Brothers on construction projects for growing German - American Catholic Communities, Bro. Adrian developed his talents for designing church furniture and architecture. He became the primary architect for the Franciscan Province of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the "St. Louis-Chicago" Province and served his Order in this capacity for half a century.

Throughout his fifty years of service as architect, which closely coincides with the first fifty years of German Franciscan Missionary work in America, Bro. Adrian drew up architectural plans and superintended construction projects for Franciscans and for other members of the regular and secular clergy. His plans and advice were sought in Roman Catholic circles nationwide. Between 1864 and 1914, ecclesiastical buildings credited to Bro. Adrian were erected across the country, from New York and New Jersey in the East to Washington, Oregon, California, and Arizona in the West and Southwest; from Wisconsin and Minnesota in the North to Tennessee and Louisiana in the South. Bro. Adrian planned parish and monastic churches, college buildings, seminaries, schools, friaries, convents, and hospitals; the Chronica of Santa Barbara Mission estimates that he designed over one hundred church buildings. Numerous structures planned by the modest Franciscan Brother Architect survive and still serve monastic communities, the diocesan priesthood, and Catholic parishioners throughout the United States.

Bro. Adrian's monastic home was St. Anthony of Padua in St. Louis, Missouri; before the turn of the century, this friary was his usual point of departure for travel to his many construction and consultation assignments. At a time when long distance overland travel was still arduous, it is understandable that Bro. Adrian's early building activities were concentrated in Midwestern cities and towns near major waterways where German Catholic settlement was most pronounced. Apparently using the ever expanding American railway system, Bro. Adrian and his designs for churches, friaries, convents, and schools soon reached regions far distant from the American Heartland.

The designs of Bro. Adrian were thoroughly imbued with elements of Neo-Romanesque or Neo-Gothic style - those styles typical for contemporary ecclesiastical structures in Bro. Adrian's German homeland. He used three basic groundplan types for the churches he designed - the three-aisled basilica, the three-aisled hall church, and the wide hall church with no side aisles. To each of these three groundplan types, furthermore, Bro. Adrian sometimes added a transept. With or without a transept, all of his churches - apart from the few in Spanish-Mission style - have a flavor typical for Medieval Germany. Such Medievalism in architectural design - common in nineteenth-century Germany - was transmitted by the humble and venerable Brother from Harsewinkel to many German-American and to some Polish-American Catholic parishes within and even beyond the vast territory of the Franciscan Sacred Heart Province in America.

In California and Arizona, where the first Franciscan missionaries had been Spanish and their Mission style prevailed, Bro. Adrian--for a few of his buildings - exchanged standard elements of his Neo-Medieval vocabulary for those characteristic of Spanish-Mission style. To accent his Mission style structures, Bro. Adrian translated his usual Neo-Medieval vocabulary of architectural ornament into Baroque and Classical forms of the Spanish-Mission style. He continued, however, to incorporate Neo-Medieval design principles in creating the major structural elements of these buildings. He planned his Mission style churches as three-aisled basilicas which include a transept; this type of groundplan is in stark contrast to the long narrow hall plan without side aisles, typical for the California mission churches, constructed by the original Spanish Franciscans.

In a vast majority of his buildings, however, Bro. Adrian worked with the Neo-Romanesque or Neo-Gothic forms common to his architecture in the Midwest. In his architectural designs, Bro. Adrian combined the standard elements of his architectural vocabulary in seemingly ever varied configurations; in doing so, he planned each church to be somewhat different from all the others. All of his churches, nonetheless, show an architectural signature distinctly his.

In the last decades of his life, Bro. Adrian spent increasingly more time in the West.

Immediately following the great San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906, he appears to have been occupied with the restoration and expansion of Franciscan facilities in the bay area.

In December 1908, Bro. Adrian completed his fiftieth year in the Franciscan Order. For this occasion he left California and returned to St. Louis where close friends and many beneficiaries of his services as an architect congratulated him in person, by telegram, or by letter; a message in the handwriting of the Holy Father himself was among the congratulations. The primary celebration of Bro. Adrian's golden jubilee was held in St. Anthony of Padua in St. Louis; the festivities brought together a huge congregation of Bishops, Priests, Friars, Monks, and Parishioners. The festival sermon was given by a longtime friend, Fr. Frowin Conrad - the Abbot of the Benedictine monastery at Conception, Missouri - whose Abbey Basilica Bro. Adrian had designed.

Bro. Adrian soon returned to California to continue drawing plans, consulting on architectural matters, and superintending building projects. In his final years, Bro. Adrian was resident at friaries in Oakland and San Francisco. While returning to San Francisco from work in San Luis Rey, Bro. Adrian fell ill and rested in Santa Barbara from December 23, 1913, until February 2, 1914. Back in San Francisco, his health continued to decline. After ten weeks in St. Joseph's hospital, on March 15, 1914, Bro. Adrian died. His body was taken to San Francisco's St. Boniface church; thereafter, Bro. Adrian was buried in the Franciscan plot in St. Mary's Cemetery in Oakland.

The following tentative chronology of Bro. Adrian's life lists some parallels between his fifty year-long career as architect for the Province of the Sacred Heart and the first fifty years of German Franciscan missionary work in Sacred Heart Province. Architecture credited to Bro. Adrian in sources such as: Heralds of the King, Provincial and parish chronicals, jubilee and centennial books, bills and purchase contracts, personal and official correspondence; blueprints and plans are indicated by the words "Docs. Bro. Adrian" = documentary attribution to Bro. Adrian. The fact that Bro. Adrian is sometimes not mentioned as architect or planner in parish chronicles-although other sources name him as such-may bear witness to the humility of this venerable Franciscan Brother. Buildings in the style of Bro. Adrian, with no known documents attributing them to him are indicated in the tentative chronology by the words "Style Bro. Adrian" - Stylistic attribution to Bro. Adrian.

Many questions remain. Which additional buildings-churches, friaries, monasteries, convents, residences, schools, hospitals--can be attributed to Bro. Adrian? What did Bro. Adrian design for the Franciscan Sisters of Lafayette? Did he draw up plans for other women's Orders? Where is the letter of congratulations to Bro. Adrian in the Holy Father's own hand? What happened to Bro. Adrian's personal items and records after his death? Where are records of Bro. Adrian's many assignments-his Obediences? This project to reconstruct the architectural and monastic career of Bro. Adrian Wewer is work in progress; therefore, leads to further information regarding Bro. Adrian and his career will be most sincerely appreciated.

Nota Bene: James A. Harmon’s article on Bro. Adrian Wewer, O.S.F. (1836-1914) is a compilation on the Provincial Architect of the Franciscan Province of the Sacred Heart.  James A. Harmon, can be contacted by email at: and by telephone at: 660-627-5055. Dr. Harmon is Professor Emeritus of Art History.  School of Arts and Letters, Truman State University, Kirksville, MO 63501.

James A. Harmon, Dr.phil.
Professor Emeritus of Art History
Truman State University

Saint Marys Cemetery
Alameda County
California, USA

Created by: Eman Bonnici
Record added: Jan 12, 2011
Find A Grave Memorial# 64097831