St. Barbara Province Chaplains During WWII

by Kelsey Blois

I’ve always had this fascination with the intersection of local and global history, with hearing how international events affected my local community. It provides the kind of personal perspective that just isn’t available in a textbook, making even the most faraway events seem real. Some of my favorite documents in the Archive include these kinds of personal testimonies into well-known historical events. So when I came across a document that mentioned friars from Santa Barbara who served as chaplains during WWII, I couldn’t help but dig deeper, looking for their stories.


Fr. Fidelis Wieland, OFM (far right), during WWII


At least eleven Franciscan friars from the Santa Barbara Province served as chaplains during World War II. In a circular written in 1942, Minister Provincial of the St. Barbara Province, Fr. Martin Knauff, OFM, commended those friars for their loyalty and dedication, encouraging others to follow in their footsteps. He emphasized the fact that, much like the lay people around them, the Franciscan brothers were compelled to use their time and skills for the cause of the Allied Forces. While their vows prevented them from acting as soldiers, they could and did serve their country through prayer and ministry.

Many of the friars felt compelled to serve after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Fr. Eric O’Brien, OFM, who had family living in Hawaii, applied to become a chaplain just days after the attack, and his appeal was followed by many others. It often took a few months for the chaplains to receive their first assignment, which is why Fr. Benedict Henderson, OFM—who would later go on to earn a Distinguished Service Medal in France for extraordinary heroism—wasn’t ordered to Ft. Sam Houston in Texas until April 1942. Fr. Richard Hodge, OFM, was ordered to the San Diego Naval Base around the same time, on April 18, 1942.


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Fr. Albert Braun, OFM, in uniform

While overseas, chaplains often faced the same dangers as the soldiers they ministered to, but were also challenged to maintain a sense of faith and hope, cultivating positivity while surrounded by darkness. Few did this better than Fr. Albert Braun, OFM, who continued to minister throughout his three years in a Japanese prison camp. Braun served as a chaplain during both World Wars, continuing on in the service after WWI as a reserve officer. He was called to duty again in 1940, spending some time at Ft. Houston before leaving for the Philippines in April 1941. In 1942, during the Allied surrender of Corregidor, Braun was taken prisoner by the Japanese, eventually moving from the Philippines to Camp Omori in Tokyo. He risked his life in order to provide the Mass to the soldiers in the camp, receiving wine and bread from sources like Lulu Reyes, the head of Chaplains’ Aid in the Philippines, and Fr. Buttenbruch, who was caught aiding Braun and was subsequently imprisoned. Braun was alWeiland_IMG_011so occasionally aided by Catholic Japanese officers. Camp Omori was liberated August 29, 1945, and Braun returned home to California shortly after.


Unfortunately, not every friar was able to return home. Fr. Fidelis M. Wieland, OFM, originally from San Francisco, lost his life in service. He had been serving on the USS Comfort, a hospital ship that was evacuating wounded soldiers from Okinawa, when it was hit by a Japanese plane. He later died in the hospital as a result of burns. Mass was held in honor of Wieland at St. Boniface Church in San Francisco on May 14, 1945, a few days after the news of his death reached the US.

These friars exemplified Franciscan values through their service, aiding society while fostering peace and justice. To this day, they serve as examples of loyalty and faith to us all, an integral part of Santa Barbara history.

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St. Joseph Painting Restoration

Thanks to a very generous grant from the California Missions Foundation the Archive-Library recently restored a “St. Joseph with Christ Child” painting from the collection. The painting of Saint Joseph dates from 18th or early 19th century and is signed “Ayala” which before restoration was almost illegible. The painting is an excellent representation of the art produced in the studios of Mexico City during the colonial period which made their way to the churches of California Missions. It might be the work of Ignacio Ayala (1786-1856) or Joseph Antonio de Ayala who was active in Mexico in the 18th century.


Before Restoration


Part way through restoration


After Restoration


During restoration Fine Art Conservation Laboratory addressed previous attempts to clean the painting which left smears and an uneven appearance. The surface is abraded in some areas due to over-cleaning. There are also punctures in the canvas which needed to be repaired. During the project FACL discovered two more flowers at the top of St. Joseph’s staff which had been wrapped around the backside. The painting was put into a custom time-period-appropriate frame as the final touch and has now returned to SBMAL, safe for generations to come.

Thank you to the Fine Art Conservation Laboratories for their work and to the California Missions Foundation for all of their support! Learn more about how you can support SBMAL art restoration here


Interested in learning more about our partners ?

Visit Fine Art Conservation Laboratories at

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Close-up of the (Art) Collection

Thanks to a very generous donation the Archive-Library is now home to this beautiful painting of Madonna and Child also known as Our Lady of the Rosary of Pomata.

IMG_5309The oil painting is 17th or 18th century from the Cuzco School in Peru. The Cuzco School was made up of European and indigenous painters in from the 16th to 19th century.  The artists often drew upon both groups’ cultural and artistic backgrounds to create the mestizo-baroque style you see here.  The artist, like many others from this time, created this piece anonymously, as art was often defined as communal.

Before coming to SBMAL, the Cuzco painting went through a year of conservation and transformation at the Fine Art Conservation Laboratories in Santa Barbara. Below, you will see the picture of the face of the Madonna before restoration and all of the work that it took to return the painting to its’ original beauty.


Close-up of Our Lady of the Rosary of Pomata before restoration

Thank you to our donor and to FACL! We appreciate all of your support and this wonderful addition to our Art Collection. To learn more about FACL’s work visit:

If you are interested in partnering with SBMAL on future art conservation projects visit: or contact


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Norman Neuerburg

Hello! My name is Kelsey Blois and I’m an intern at the Santa Barbara Mission Archive-Library. I’m also a sophomore at Westmont College, working toward a double major in History and Spanish. This internship serves as my first foray into the wild word of archiving. It’s been an incredible learning experience, and I’ve loved having the opportunity to help preserve the history of the Santa Barbara community.

I’ve spent most of my time at the Archive-Library working on the Norman Neuerburg Collection, which includes photos, papers, research, and correspondence from art historian and mission enthusiast Norman Neuerburg.

Norman with Rhino

Neuerburg in front of Zoology Building, Harvard, CT

Neuerburg was born in Universal City, California on February 3, 1926. From a young age, his love for the California missions was obvious. At the age of 15, he was already providing tours of Mission San Fernando. Some of my favorite documents housed within the Archive include a poem written by a young Neuerburg that describes in detail the “musky odor” of Mission San Juan Capistrano, as well as an old autograph book of Neuerburg’s that is filled with the signatures of various friars who populated the missions.

That passion for history would lead Neuerburg into a life of scholarship. After serving in Italy during WWII, he graduated from UCLA with a degree in Greek before going on to earn his master’s and doctorate in art history from NYU. In 1955, he won the Rome Prize Fellowship, which allowed him to research fine arts and classical studies at the Rome Academy. He became an educator, teaching art history in such esteemed universities as the University of California Berkeley, USC, UCLA, Indiana University and the California Institute of the Arts. In addition, Neuerburg worked as a historical consultant to El Pueblo de Los Angeles, the Santa Barbara Trust for Historical Preservation, and the Getty Villa.


norman poem

“San Juan Capistrano” by Neuerburg

Throughout his life, Neuerburg traveled widely, capturing through the lens of his camera countless edifices and landscapes. Most of his voyages found him in Mexico or Spain, and he also spent a considerable amount of time traveling up and down the California coast, forever researching and photographing the architectural masterpieces he fell in love with as a child.

When Neuerburg died in December 1997, his memorial service was held at Mission San Fernando, a fitting end for a life dedicated to the preservation of the history of the Missions.

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Sketches of an Artist, J. Franklin Waldo


Mission Santa Barbara by John Franklin Waldo, C. 1884

John Franklin Waldo was born in 1835 in Vermont.  Early in his life he worked as a carriage and sign painter and then, in 1871, studied at the Chicago Academy of Design.  While largely supporting himself as a fresco painter, Waldo continued to paint western landscapes in watercolor and oil. He studied for a short time under Henry Chapman Ford and visited the Santa Barbara artist several times. It may have been during one of these trips that he filled the sketchbook featured here.  He exhibited at the National Academy of Design, in the American Watercolor Society’s exhibit. In 1920, Waldo passed away in Los Angeles.



Santa Barbara Bay by John Franklin Waldo, C. 1884

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Digital Incunabula or, Br. Jeff loves Alliteration


What to do with a floppy disk full of important archival materials.

By Br. Jeff Durham, OFM

Many of the patrons at the Santa Barbara Mission-Archive Library assume that all of the things we do involve old documents, manuscripts and photos. However, there is a slow trickle of items which I refer to as digital incunabula. What I mean by this term are those artifacts from the dawn of the information age.

Two items that came across my desk in the past few weeks were floppy disks (with a minuscule 1.44 MB of memory) and an ancient (at least in the sense of Moore’s Law*) laptop. From the standpoint of an information scientist, this provided a great opportunity to work with computer technology that was still working on mechanical principles (listen to those hard drives and floppy drives spinning)! This was also a good way to prepare the archive-library for what is sure to go from a technological trickle to a digital deluge as more of the material that arrives at the facility will be “born digital”*. With the success of this project, we are well on our way to bridging the digital divide.

*Moore’s Law is the observation that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit has doubled approximately every two years.

*The term born-digital refers to materials that originate in a digital form.


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Q and A with Br. Jeff


Br. Jeff hard at work on the Oblasser Collection.


Br. Jeff hard at work on the finding guide for the Oblasser Collection.

Br. Jeff comes to the Archive-Library each week day morning, comedic coffee cup in hand, to continue his work with the Oblasser Collection. What follows is part of an an extra brief Q&A with Br. Jeff to find out how the project is coming along.


SBMAL: Can you tell us about the collection you are working on?

Br. Jeff: My main project here at the archives currently is the Oblasser collection. This collection which is made up largely through data compiled by the Franciscan friar, Bonaventure Oblasser, also known as the “Apostle to the Papagos (Tohono O’odham)”.

The collection which we have concerning Oblasser is quite large and somewhat unwieldy. My concentration in library and information science has been information organization, analysis, and retrieval. As such, it was felt that having me to develop an organizational schema and taxonomy would be a good place for me to start in the archive-library.

SBMAL: How has this project informed your understanding of the World of Library Science?

Br. Jeff: This experience is affording me a wonderful dual opportunity. The first part is that it allows me to flesh out the epic figures of Southwest Franciscan history, such as the friars Bonaventure Oblasser and Al Braun. While I have heard these names throughout my friar life, the best way to understand someone is through the words, so going through their correspondence has afforded me this way of personalizing their stories to me. The second opportunity is to be part of the team here at the Santa Barbara Mission Archive-Library to develop and improve the findability and searchability resource for Southwest Franciscan studies more accessible to future researchers.


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