World-renowned expert on Chinese art and first Catholic priest on University of Chicago faculty led colorful, faithful life

Father Henricus "Harrie" Vanderstappen, 1921-2007

Vanderstappen,_Fr_Harrie_for_webThe Rev. Henricus "Harrie" Vanderstappen, 86, the first Catholic priest to become a professor at the University of Chicago, died suddenly on Jan. 25, 2007.

Born in Holland, the son of the late John and Hanneke Vanderstappen, he had nine brothers and one sister: Antoon, Albert, Will, John, Chef, Lieske Van De Ven, Joseph and the late Martin, Andre and Piet. He was the first of his family to come to America; several other siblings followed. He was a beloved uncle and great uncle to many who came from all across the United States and from Holland to attend his funeral.

Father Vanderstappen was a professor of art history at the University of Chicago for more than 35 years, specializing in Chinese and Japanese art. He was department chairperson from 1965 to 1970. In 1985, he received the Distinguished Teaching of Art History Award, a national award from the College Art Association of America given to one professor annually.

Upon his retirement, the University of Chicago established an endowed chair in his honor: The Harrie A. Vanderstappen, S.V.D. Distinguished Service Professorship of Chinese Art History. When the honor was announced, the University president stated, "During his years here, he was among Chicago’s most brilliant and committed teachers." His students are now teaching Chinese and Japanese art at more than 20 universities. Others are museum curators.

Father Vanderstappen was born on Jan. 21, 1921, and grew up on a family farm in Holland, wearing wooden shoes. He attended seminaries in Germany just before and during World War II, at one time living with his classmates in a windowless basement for nearly 100 days to avoid capture by the Nazis. He was ordained in 1945 and sent to China where he was asked to teach art. Three years later, the Chinese Communists expelled him and many other foreign missionaries.

Over the next decade, he studied art in the United States and then taught briefly in Japan before receiving an invitation to teach at the University of Chicago. At that time, it was most unusual for a Catholic priest to be offered such a position at a secular institution.

Some years after retiring from the University of Chicago, he moved to the Divine Word Residence at Techny, where he maintained contact with many former students. After decades of teaching art history, he did some painting in his retirement years – but, in his own words, strictly as an amateur. He remained active and maintained his engaging, humble, cheerful outlook until the day he died suddenly of an apparent heart attack.

A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated Monday at the Church of the Holy Spirit at Techny Towers, with burial at St. Mary’s Cemetery at Techny. Memorial donations for the care of retired missionaries may be sent to The Rector, Divine Word Residence, 1901 Waukegan Road, P.O. Box 6000, Techny, IL 60082-6000.

To read more about Father Vanderstappen’s life and groundbreaking work in Chinese art, click here.

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