Heritage Room introduces Year of Faith exhibit

Q and A with Director of Family Life George Rigazzi


By Sooner Catholic Staff

The Heritage Room is a museum in miniature that showcases the history of the archdiocese. When the exhibit on the life and work of Bishop Kelley ended in February, preparations began for an exhibit relating to the Year of Faith. This month, we interviewed George Rigazzi, head of the project.

SC:  How did you become interested in history, particularly that of our archdiocese?
GR: Even as a small child, I was always fascinated by those who have gone before us.  Sadly, I never had a great history teacher until college, when Father Joe Murphy of St. Gregory's lit the fire.  He had the gift of making history come alive, which helped me to realize that it was about people and not just statistics and dates.  My interest was piqued because of the Benedictines' role in bringing the faith to Oklahoma.


SC: What is the Heritage Room?
GR: The struggles of Oklahoma Catholics to survive prejudice and hardships and become productive and influential citizens are truly remarkable. The Heritage Room is designed to give a snapshot of this Catholic history in Oklahoma.  This is done through photographs, artifacts and text. It is my intent that in the future audio and visual elements will be added. 

SC: How did it get started?
GR: It started in 2005 at the request of Archbishop Emeritus Eusebius Beltran to honor the Centennial of the Diocese of Oklahoma (as we were known before 1930 when it was changed to the Diocese of Oklahoma City and Tulsa).  My good friend Jim Weinmann started the project and continued until his retirement in 2011.

SC: Tell us about this year's theme.
GR: The theme is Celebrating the Year of Faith: Oklahoma's Faithful Pioneers.  The contributions of the Benedictines, Bishop Theophile Meerschaert, the first women religious, Bishop Eugene McGuinness, the mission in Guatemala and Bishop Victor Reed at Vatican II will be explored, as well as such figures as Saint Katherine Drexel, who played a large role in the development of the Church in Oklahoma, and William Henry Ketcham, an Oklahoma priest who became head of the Catholic Indian Bureau in Washington, D.C. Cristina Speligene, who teaches design at Tulsa University, is a very talented graphic designer who prepares the exhibit. I provide the photos and text, and she does the rest. Last year's exhibit won a design award.

SC: What do you hope people gain from visiting the Heritage Room?
GR: It is my hope that those who visit will have a greater understanding of the rich and entertaining history of the Church in Oklahoma.

SC: When and how can people visit?
GR: When the new exhibit is done (which should be soon), the hours will be 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Admission is free. Tours are available on request by calling George Rigazzi at (405) 721-5651, ext. 141. Information about the exhibit opening will be available in the paper and on the archdiocesan website.

SC:  One more, just for fun. Do you have a favorite time period/historical figure that you study?
GR: My favorite time period is 1919-45, between the wars, as well as World War II itself.  Not only am I intrigued by the Church during this period, but by all that led to war and our response as a country.  I think I've read about everything there is to read about Franklin Roosevelt.