"The Fathers of American Sindonology"

Dorothy Crispino
Copyright 1996 All Rights Reserved
Reprinted by permission.

In this place sixty odd years ago, a handful of Redemptorist priests recognized Christ in another effigy, and like the disciples at supper at Emmaus, they lost no time in spreading the news. Perhaps you remember how it started, here in this very building. How Father William Barry, a priest at the Mount, went to Rome to complete his studies; how he heard about the Shroud for the first time from a classmate; and how, on his way back to the States, he stopped in Turin, celebrated Mass in the Holy Chapel and even met Giuseppe Enrie. The year was 1933.

By September that year, Fr. Barry was already teaching here at Esopus when in Turin, during the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the Shroud was exhibited in commemoration of the nineteen hundredth anniversary of Redemption. So Father Barry never saw the Shroud.

Someone who did see the Shroud in 1933, however, was a young seminarian studying in Turin, Peter Rinaldi. During the Exposition, an impromptu seminar was held to discuss this astounding Relic and an interpreter was needed. The polyglot student unexpectedly found himself in the midst of doctors and professors from all over Europe. It was Peter Rinaldi's first assignment in a long life of continual service to the Shroud. He wrote later that he was very impressed with Dr. Barbet, and that he was surprised to learn that the Shroud was of interest to science. Little could he guess....

Here at the Mount, one of the faculty was Fr. Edward Wuenschel. Wuenschel, ordained at Esopus, had been teaching since 1927, after completing his studies in Rome. Strange coincidence, Fr. Wuenschel was born on May 30, 1898, just two days after Secondo Pia's photograph catapulted the Shroud out of the cloister into the halls of science.

It is curious to watch how the elements of the future stand, as it were, in the wings of time awaiting their cue. Personalities as yet unacquainted go about their normal everyday activities, unaware that their deeds are destined for a purpose not yet revealed. In 1934, Sign magazine accepted an article tremulously submitted by an obscure seminarian in Turin, Italy. The title was simply "The Holy Shroud". Father Wuenschel read it. And Fr. Barry gave him the Enrie pictures he had brought from Turin the year before. Wuenschel's first Shroud article appeared soon after, published in the American Ecclesiastical Review , 1935.

That was the year that Peter Rinaldi was ordained in Turin. He was assigned to the Salesian Institute in New Rochelle, while a few miles northward, here along the Hudson, Wuenschel, Barry and Fr. Louis Hartmann, working and studying together, published and lectured, bringing knowledge of the Shroud to the American public. Interest was keen about how this moving Relic reflected the Gospels, and particularly about the medical aspects of the Image.

Fr. Wuenschel had been corresponding with Giuseppe Enrie and Paul Vignon and in 1937 he and Vignon collaborated to publish in Scientific American . In that year, he founded The American Commission on Studies of the Holy Shroud. Although it did not last two decades, it will be remembered as the first research organization in America.

Meanwhile, far away in Turin that same year, the peers of the Royal Confraternity of the Most Holy Shroud convened for a momentous session. The Royal Confraternity had been erected in Piedmont in 1598 to promote devotion to the Shroud and to engage in pious and charitable pursuits. Moved by the sufferings of Christ as seen on the Shroud, and urged by the message of Redemption, for more than 300 years members of the noble fraternity had devoted themselves to acts of benevolence in the name of the Holy Shroud. The resounding arguments raised in France after Pia's photographs barely caused a ripple along the Po. But all around the world so much interest had been generated by the expositions of 1931 and 1933 that members felt it necessary to create, within the Confraternity, an international sodality for the purpose of spreading the knowledge and devotion of the Holy Shroud. In 1937, then, the Cultores Sanctae Sindonis was established.

It was in 1938 that Fr. Wuenschel asked a seminarian, a sort of amateur photographer, to make some copies of the Enrie photographs. Father Otterbein wrote later that the negative characteristics of the original image fascinated him. Under Fr. Wuenschel's guidance he began to learn about the Shroud, but seminary studies came first. After his ordination here at Esopus in 1941, Fr. Otterbein went to the Catholic University where he took a degree in 1945, returning to Esopus as a member of the faculty. The next four years are succinctly summed up in Father's own words: "I learned a lot from association and discussions with Barry, Hartmann and Wuenschel". A typical example of Fr. Adam's non-assertive nature. We can safely assume that into these few bland words, he reduced long hours of deep talks and study and meditation about that holy Relic in Turin. For when Wuenschel, in 1949, was called to Rome to direct the Redemptorist graduate school, he entrusted Fr. Otterbein to carry on Shroud work in the States.

In May of 1939, the Cultores sponsored the First National Congress of Shroud Studies, held in Turin. But Shroud activities soon gave way to the urgencies and tragedies of the Second World War and it was not until 1950 that initiatives could be resumed: in May of that year the Cultores sponsored the First International Congress of Shroud Studies, held in Turin and Rome. Already internationally recognized as an expert in sindonology, Wuenschel gave papers at both the Turin and Rome sessions of the Congress.

Back in Esopus, Fr. Otterbein responded with alacrity to his new responsibility by publishing little pamphlets of some of his mentor's manuscripts. Listen to what Father Adam tells about that moment: "I used the seminary address, and lest all orders should be addressed to Mount Saint Alphonsus Seminary and go to the Rector's office, I decided on Holy Shroud Guild as the mailing address. At that time it was merely a name.... That was the beginning of the Guild."

The name Holy Shroud Guild became reality on October 6, 1951. On that date the Guild was canonically erected as a Pious Sodality of the Venerators of the Most Holy Shroud of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Its founder and first president was the Rev. Adam J. Otterbein. Fr. Wuenschel, far off in Rome, was named Honorary President; Fr. Barry was Secretary-Treasurer. There were two Councillors, Frs. Francis Filas and Peter Rinaldi.

It is the first time that Fr. Rinaldi is mentioned. Writing of events of 1950, Fr. Adam remarks: "It was about that time that Fr. Rinaldi began working with us." Vague fragments like this leave us frustrated. When did they meet, under what circumstances, and at whose initiative? 1950 was a Holy Year, and Fr. Rinaldi, since two years pastor of Corpus Christi Church, was able during the August vacation, to go to Rome. Too late for the Congress but certainly he must have known that Fr. Edward Wuenschel had spoken in Turin about the sindonic movement in the States. But it was August, and Fr. Wuenschel, accustomed to Roman ways, was probably not in residence. Were the two Shroud scholars already acquainted? Did they meet before Fr. Rinaldi returned to the States in October?

After the establishment of the Guild, the next step was to affiliate with the international sodality, the Cultores Sanctae Sindonis. The diploma of affiliation is dated Turin, 24 December 1951. By this time, scientific research was striding ahead of the more traditional religious aspects and in 1959 the Cultores was dissolved and in its place the Centro Internazionale di Sindonologia was created to promote scientific and scholarly research. Thus the Holy Shroud Guild became automatically associated with the Centro.

To allay any confusion, the Centro was conceived within the Royal Confraternity; the president of the Confraternity is by statute also president of the Centro - today Dr. Bruno Barberis. The Centro is administered by the Confraternity through a Director, today Prof. Pierluigi Baima-Bollone. The membership of the Royal Confraternity is restricted; the Centro has over two thousand corresponding members, one of which is the Holy Shroud Guild.

What I have given you is a chronological outline based on written sources. Who aspires to compose a narrative history might have a hard time of it because these pioneers were busy building something other than themselves. They left no personal memoirs. But essentially we see that a handful of Redemptorist priests planted and nourished sindonology here at Esopus. The Holy Shroud Guild was created. almost by accident by Fr. Otterbein and, as he says, it was about that time that the Salesian, Fr. Rinaldi, brought to the fledgling Guild his portentous knowledge, extraordinary abilities and personal qualities. Without minimizing the cooperation and support of many other devoted and zealous persons, some of whom are here this evening - we all know that the growth and strength and preeminent renown of the Guild is due to the combined talents and single purpose of Father Otterbein and Father Rinaldi.

We are all beneficiaries of the Guild, and we are grateful to Father Brinkmann for making possible our assembly. But we are not here to rest on the laurels of others. For all of us, groups or independent individuals, the ideal goal is stated, perhaps rather too simply, in the twofold purpose of the Guild:

1. to spread accurate information about the Shroud in order to promote devotion to Christ crucified;
2. to encourage scientific and scholarly studies.

In Barry, Hartmann, Wuenschel, Otterbein, Rinaldi, we have the nucleus of a history that should guide and inspire. To maintain the high prestige and international respect, to foster new friendships and above all to safeguard our ties with Turin and Rome, it lies with us to demonstrate to the world that today there are Americans worthy of the great legacy left to us in the Holy Shroud Guild.

Dorothy Crispino

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