Calling Cards From Heaven
Julie Ann Warth-Brown
used with permission
Blessings to all of you. I thought you might be curious about the "Chant Art Family." I will share the history about our entrepreneurial family. Additionally, I will tell you about my personal vocation with our project.
The Chant Art Family consists of two families. We have blended our complementary gifts to create the CDs and website. The first family consists of Alex (former Disney Graphic artist and my friend and webmaster), Cynthia (professor of graphic arts and my dear friend), Heather and Hayley (their two young daughters). The second family is mine. It consists of my husband Paul (my beloved colleague and best friend), Jenny and Christina (our young daughters), and myself, Julie Ann Warth-Brown (wife, mother, teacher).
The Chant Art name came from Alex. We were discussing the Benedictine community of Saint Andrew's Abbey and the popularity of singing Scripture known as Chant, when Alex said "Why not call our company "Chant Art?" Our holy cards create visual prayer or chant art. Thus the family and the holy cards became the Chant Art Family.
I must rely on my faith as Roman Catholic Christian to share my story on how I became interested in collecting, preserving and archiving Christian Holy Cards. I honor and respect my fellow individuals of all traditions. I do not seek to change or convince you to believe what I am sharing with you. I only ask you to become a scholar. Listen to others who do or do not believe as you do. In listening we learn to confirm or challenge our own values. We become stronger in who we are and what we believe. I have a journey to love and serve my Creator and fellow man.
This is the story of my journey and those I have met along the way. Our traditions may seem strange to each other, but only God knows the depth of our thoughts and motivations. We all have journeys to tread during our lives. This will be story of my journey. I have viewed my reality through my eyes and my faith. I hope that it helps you to understand what holy cards have meant and continue to mean to me today.
My parents are both immigrants to the United States. My Father is from Munich, Germany. My Mother is from Tasmania, Australia.
My Father was a young boy when WWII was ending. Hitler took the young and the old in his last attempt to ruin the world. My Father was sixteen when he was sent to war. He was charming and happy. The elderly and the young were the last to go into battle. The old men were sent to France. The young boys who were sixteen and seventeen were sent to Russia. The old men liked my Father and somehow got him on their train to Bordeaux. All the boys, who went to Russia in the group that was to include my Father, were killed. My Father and the old men were soon taken as prisoners.
After serving two years in a French prison camp, he returned home. My grandmother said he did not speak for a year. She said that her joyful son was gone. He was never the same again.
His determination to not be a joiner did remain. For example, my Father would never attend a Hitler youth meeting. He would pay the fees (he would build bikes from parts he could collect or purchase around Munich) so he did not have to attend. That same sense of freedom fueled his desire to leave Europe and the memories of war. He built cars and sold them in the years following the war. The moment he had enough money to purchase a one-way ticket to somewhere, he left - for Australia.
He met my Mother several years later at a dance in Melbourne. My Mother left Tasmania as a fourteen-year-old girl. She joined her two older sisters in Melbourne and worked in a hotel (she lied about her age) and factory during and after the war. My parents married three months after meeting. Some time later immigration to the United States presented itself as an option for my parents. My Aunt was a war bride and lived in California. She and her husband sponsored my parents as immigrants. So, they both left their countries and their pasts behind to set off to the land of sunshine, Southern California.
I love my parents. As many of us realize our parents are not perfect. They are fractured human beings. We all are. However, as parents I believe we must work at having moments of being whole and healthy. Decisions that will effect our children need at least the attempt at wholeness or balance. We should try to recognize where we can be the parents we ourselves longed for. This is the responsibility of being a parent. We do fail. But it is how often we try and succeed that ultimately is remembered by our children.
That said, my parents did the best they could. However, they were never given a time to be children themselves. Additionally, they are ill suited for parenthood. They both are physically beautiful and enjoy being the life of the party. They tend to focus on their own issues. Their focus was not on what was wrong with each other, or what others needed. They often had little time or energy to parent. This created a parental void for me.
Immediately God knew my void and filled it. He even shared his Mother with me. I have been blessed. I have recognized early, how God wanted me to be his. I have done my best to answer him.
As an only child of older parents (During the 1950s, if you were a new parent in your 30s then you were considered old.) It was rather a lonely life. I had my Barbies, my prayer book, and the television as my main sources of company. Last night I watched the movie "The Song of Bernadette, and told my family how as a child I would watch the movie over and over again. I selected her for my Patroness at Confirmation. It was only in watching the movie last night did I realize that Bernadette is given a lace holy card to send to the Parish priest. I therefore, must have had additional confirmation, that these little pieces of paper, were calling cards from heaven. It is funny what we remember and what we forget from our childhood. I do remember however my first introduction to holy cards.
My Mother is a devout Catholic (only not practicing) and my Father is a loving Protestant Christian (not practicing). They both felt an obligation to train me in a religion. They selected the Catholic denomination (they were not married in a Church so there was not a formal obligation to raise me in a particular Christian faith). My lessons in Scripture were from the Sisters of St. Louis. They taught us our Catechism on Saturday mornings. My Mother took me to Mass occasionally. She stopped when she felt I was old enough to go on my own. When I had received my first Holy Communion at seven I attended Sunday services or Mass, alone.
It is at this time I discovered holy cards. Visual Scripture. At seven, I was innocent of revenue and expenses. When I was given money to place into the basket, I thought that it was a wonderful idea to keep half of it so that I could take it to the hall after Mass, and gave the rest to God there. I could get a donut and a Holy Card with the money too! God was so good. He not only received all the money, but I too, had something to remember him with.
It was with my collection of penny holy cards purchased after Mass that brought the Scripture alive to me. like many others, I am a visual and kinesthetic learner. We are usually taught orally, but not all of us learn as easily in that form. I need to "see and touch" when I learn.
During the sermon or homily, I would stare at my holy cards within my prayerbook. I could then see the face and Scripture passages with my Jesus. I knew he loved and suffered for me. It was easy to love him in return. He was held in the palm of my hand, just like the Priest said he held me in the depth of his heart. What a wonderful lesson, and a wonderful memory.
I do not have any other childhood memories of holy cards until I was eleven. My parents placed me in seventh grade at St. Cyprian parochial school. The Sisters of St. Louis now taught me all my academic lessons. They also were the first to ever give me a holy card. I had not seen them since I had purchased them as a younger child. They gave me a holy card of St. Bernadette. It has remained one of my most treasured items from my youth.
I started college at sixteen. I wanted to be a nun, but it was not my vocation. God had other ideas. My vocation was to be a wife, mother, and teacher. I still am not certain what else he has in mind, I do know that if I had or were left on my own, I would not make the best decisions. I just ask him to direct and take care of me.
For example, I did ask him for a specific prayer to be answered. I wanted him to send me someone special as a boyfriend and then one day, husband (I had discovered boys at college. I wanted to meet and marry someone opposite to my father (I do not care for "bad boys."). I therefore found my prayer journal and wrote God a letter. I told him which qualities I hoped to find in a spouse. I did end my letter however, saying that the timing is up to him. I could be seventeen or seventy when I meet my true earthy love. Just please I asked, let me be patient and have a sense of knowing him when we meet.
Within twenty-four hours I met Paul. I knew I would marry him when I saw him. We dated about three years before we married. Our wedding was one week before I graduated the University of Southern California. We have known each other since September 17th (St. Hildegard's Feast day, but that is another story) 1977. We have a wonderful relationship. Not a perfect relationship, but one filled with love and communication. We are best friends. We also try to be the best parents we can to our two daughters. We reach for the healing of wholeness. We fail but are also succeed. We never fail to recognize how blessed we are with our two daughters.
I studied personnel administration as an undergraduate. I received almost a second bachelors degree in business. I loved school. I somehow ended up with two Master Degrees. My focus was on marketing. I had asked God so many times, "Why am I here? I should have a degree in medieval history, religion, or psychology." I knew that I was following all the coincidences and opportunities He had placed in front of me. I knew I had a vocation to teach but yet, I have always known there was something else He wanted me to do. Why did he have me teach of all disciplines, business?
I now know two things. The first is that God has a sense of humor (of all my academic business colleagues, I am the least stereotypical).
The second is that God wanted me to "revive a tradition." He wanted me to learn marketing so I could re-market His message through his very loved Holy Cards. At this time, I am still much better at teaching and empowering others to create and improve on their entrepreneurial endeavors. I am still learning how to be an entrepreneur. If we are too ever breakeven, it is in God's hands.
My work is to collect and archive the antique holy cards. Paper was expensive and precious over eighty years ago. Many people have neglected or discarded religious paper. Before it is lost forever, the images need to not only be shared, but also spared. Paper will not last. The older it is the more it has a chance to disintegrate. Time is running out for most antique paper. I hope I can do my part is saving at least, the artwork images. Modern technology is I am certain, a part God's plan to help not only with remembering the past, but in creating future possibilities that at this time we cannot imagine.
In January of 1996 I went to our local antique mall to look for treasures. That day I found the buried treasure of memories. I found a beautiful collection of antique holy cards.
It had been decades since I had seen similar holy cards. Over the years since I loved them during Mass, I there was only one occasion that would bring them to mind. It was when I thought about the end of my life. I worried that my family would not remember that I wanted a special holy card made and given at my funeral. It was something that everyone had heard me mention. I cannot tell you why this was such a worry. Perhaps, it was not a worry but a reminder of my vocation. My husband would tell me I had better show him what exactly I meant or wanted in a "holy card." He was new to the Church and still did not understand many of the traditions. A holy card with a prayer on the back has been a tradition for many centuries for Roman Catholics.
It was several months later when I met Cynthia and her family that this new vocation began. On Mother's Day I decided to have my first garage sale. I put one advertisement in the paper and one sign on the gate. Fortunately, the neighbors were having sales too, or Cynthia might not have found me.
This garage sale was significant. The merchandise consisted of all my childhood possessions that would not be necessary to keep anymore. It was cathartic to have closure with my childhood. I decided to give away what I did not sell.
I was speaking at a Mother and Daughter Tea at our local Methodist Church, so I needed to close the garage sale early and get ready. Just before I closed, a rather nice woman my age was looking through my old magazines and 45 records. Only God could have made me "Ask do you teach at the college?" She said yes, that she taught graphic arts (I did not know what exactly that discipline was except it had to do with art).
She then asked my daughter how old she was (she was eight at the time) , and told us she had two daughters,eleven and nine. Icommented on the coincidence that we both had girls around the same ages and that we worked at the same college. Then I found out she lived around the corner.
It was about a week later I found out she was an artist and told her that I had some holy cards and I would love to share them with her as an artist. They were beautiful. I brought my collection over to her home. The four daughters spent about an hour looking at them.
Cynthia asked if she could borrow one to lift a lily off the image. She explained that t was public domain material (over 75 years old) and therefore she could legally use it. I did not understand any of this and said, of course she could boorow the card. Then I mused "What a shame others can't see the cards and love them not just as we did, but as the next generation our daughters, do."
Cynthia answered "Why not?" She explained to me how we could scan the images and preserve them on CD-ROM. It could be a family project. She would teach the girls and I how to do it. We could have it as a hobby and social time for us. Perhaps, we could even sell them.
We were all busy and after the first few CDs our daughters were ready to take a sabbatical from scanning. Cynthia and Alex had their business as graphic artists. Cynthia also was given a permanent teaching position in Santa Barbara. The commute made the Holy Card endeavor difficult. I kept scanning and hiring college students to scan my growing collection of holy cards.
I had also discovered I was sick. I had severe pain in my chest. Very rarely could I keep food down. I had both a hiatial hernia and escophogitis. The doctor worried that it was cancerous. He had part of a red area of my skin biopsied. I knew it was not cancer. I had too much to do for God with his project. He needed to tell me what my next step should be.
He did. The sign was in the envelope of cards from my original collection of 100 holy cards I had purchased at our local antique mall. Ten of these cards had not been scanned and I hired a graphic art student to scan them for me. She returned them several days earlier but I had not taken the time to look at the scan or cards.
I was lying in bed, just hurting, when I decided to open the envelope. I lovingly looked at the cards. Then I had a surprise.
I noticed a beautiful black and white card with the theme of family. It had the heavenly family and the holy family.
Then I noticed something else. My maiden name Warth, was on the card. It also said Munchen. I believe God speaks to us through coincidences. I knew this was one of those times. I called my Father and asked him about his grandfather. I somehow thought that he had set the print for the Munich newspaper. I was correct.
I told my father about the card. He said most likely it was my great-grandfather who set the print for this holy card. Warth is not a common German name. There were very few Warths in Munich at the turn of the century that would have been printers. It was then I knew that I had indeed found one of God's calling cards.
My vocation was to save these images. I had to get well first. I knew that I needed both my earthly family and heavenly family. I also knew it would take a journey.
It was time to go to Lourdes. I always knew I would one day go to the town of Our Lady and Bernadette, and the time had come. We stayed at the retreat house of St. Thomas. The Franciscan Sisters run a home for retired priests and guest traveling to Lourdes. Our monastic friends at St. Andrew's Abbey had told us that we most likely could stay there. The first time I drank of the water of Lourdes it was wonderful. It was sweet. It was soothing to my body and soul. I had not slept for two weeks through the night, but after our first day of prayer and the water of the springs I slept through the night. I knew that I was healed. I also knew that when I returned home I would do what I could to "revive a tradition." My mission was truly to begin. I would teach extra classes to fund my collection; I would give away as many CDs as I could afford.
The tradition of our sharing holy cards with each other continues. Perhaps, not in the same way as before but with the same motivation. Many of our ancestors created or gave these images to others as their expression of the love and fidelity to God and from God.
Today I can only tell you that so many other coincidences have occurred since my healing two years ago, I would like to share them all with you. Most of us teachers love to teach either at the podium, with paper, or through the Internet. I am certain that if I am meant to do so, I will one day have most of my stories written. If you have managed to read all of this you are in my opinion a saint! I also want to tell you that if you cannot afford a holy card CD and it will help in your ministry and life, I will, within reason, make one for you and send it to you. Just pop me an E mail. Until the next time I write of the coincidence of life I bless and pray for you and your loved ones. Julie
If you enjoyed Julie's story, read more about her work of preserving and distributing antique holycard images in God's Business Plan
If you'd like to contact Julie for more information, or to purchase an antique holycard CD, visit HolyCards.Com