Introducing the Not That Christian Column

Launching lite with “Catholic aesthetic”, beer-brewing bros, and a legal stoush over Dorothy Gale’s dress

Every week, as I scour the wilds of contemporary life in search of stories, I stumble across a tale or two that, while super interesting, I ultimately cast aside because it is just Not That Christian.

When I say “not that Christian,” I don’t mean unChristian stories. Nor am I referring to the vast ocean of stories that other people consider to be A Key Christian Issue that seem So Not Important to me.

I’m talking about the stories that sort of have a “Christian” angle but aren’t actually related to big things happening in the Christian world, or that Christians are doing, or even that Christians really care about. Christian-themed stories, if you will. The media equivalent to the lyrics of Bon Jovi’s Living on a Prayer. Know what I mean?

Anyway, rather than leave such utter quality on the cutting room floor of my research process, I thought perhaps I’d gather them in a weekly column, to be thrown out with the trash occasionally on a Friday afternoon when you might need a lite read, and I might need a lite write.

And here we go.

It’s all about a “Catholic aesthetic” at weddings these days, apparently

This week, reality-TV star Kourtney Kardashian and Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker made headlines when they styled their Portefino wedding with a “Catholic aesthetic”. Kardashian wore a bridal romper featuring a Virgin Mary veil which matched her new husband’s tattoo, both by designer Dolce and Gabbana. Barker, who really is a Catholic, wore a tuxedo.

Kourtney converted to the Armenian Apostolic Church in 2019, but that didn’t stop the outrage that the couple’s style choices were sacrilegious.

“Kinda weird that kourtney wedding is like this catholic ‘aesthetic’ like the Virgin Mary on her dress and her wedding veil ??” one person reportedly wrote.

A second added, “I just really feel like Travis & Kourtney [sic] wedding is mocking the catholic religion? They don’t symbolize religious people at all, just feels like mockery. I’m not catholic but just doesn’t sit right with me.”

“I’m just going to say it point blank. Kourtney Kardashian’s use of the Blessed Mother in her outfit(s) during her wedding weekend was extremely offensive to me as a Catholic … I have a right to feel offended by it,” they wrote on Twitter.

Exactly how Catholic the service was is unknown, but this Eternity writer recognises the minister-to-be LA pastor Chad Veach and he sure ain’t Catholic.

As exciting as all that is, the event’s pasta course was the real controversy. Picturing a heaping mound of steaming Italian pasta? Think again.

“The pasta portion size at Kourtney Kardashian’s wedding is one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen,” tweeted one Twitterer.

Beer bros shafted by craft-beer hipster competition

America has lost its only Trappist brewery due to the competitive beer market in other Not-That-Christian foodie news. That’s right folks, if you have been planning to go get a Trappist beer sometime soon, you’re out of blessings because the first and only certified Trappist brewery in the U.S. has said that it will close, citing a lack of financial viability.

A monk at work in the Spencer Brewery lab. Image: Spencer

A monk at work in the Spencer Brewery lab. Image: Spencer Brewery Spencer Brewery

“After more than a year of consultation and reflection, the monks of St. Joseph’s Abbey have come to the sad conclusion that brewing is not a viable industry for us and that it is time to close the Spencer Brewery,” Spencer Brewery announced on Facebook on May 14.

“We want to thank all our customers for their support and encouragement over the years,” the brewery added. “Our beer will be available in our regular retail outlets while supplies last. Please keep us in your prayers.”

The brewery was launched in 2014 to help provide a new source of revenue for the monks of St Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, who lead lives of contemplative prayer.

“All our activities that we do are to support our lives of prayer,” Spencer Brewery’s director, Father William Dingwall, told The Boston Globe.

Its website reports that the brewery’s peak production was 4,500 barrels, about 60,000 beer cases. Its beers were distributed domestically and in eight countries.

Dingwell said they had considered closing the brewery for a few years now. He said he thought the beer market “started to change radically,” and the abbey’s brewery faced more competition from other craft breweries.

Given that the monks were unwilling to open a taproom – a profitable effort for many brewers – on account of such things not pairing all that well with contemplative prayer, presumably – the decision to close was easy for the monks.

“Beer was a particularly interesting and engaging activity, but we’re not here for the beer,” Dingwell said.

There’s no place like ho— a plastic bag shoved in a shoebox, lost for years in the theatre department

Returning to not-that-Christian entertainment news, there’s a stoush underway at The Catholic University of America (that’s your tenuous link, friends) over who owns the iconic blue gingham dress worn by Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale from Kansas in The Wizard of Oz. 

The dress was due to be auctioned on May 24, but on May 23, a federal judge May 23 prevented the University of America from selling the 1939 movie costume until its rightful owner could be determined.

Here’s the context you need:

The dress was discovered in a shoebox, in a plastic bag, shoved on top of a faculty mailbox in the theatre department during a pre-renovation clean out last year.

Matt Ripa, a lecturer and operations coordinator in the drama department, found it. He thinks it was put there when a retired drama department professor discovered it while doing some pandemic cleaning out and sorting. A note taped to the bag said: “I found this in my office.”

(Side note: This has happened once before in pre-reno cleanouts at the Catholic Uni. In 2010, Bishop David M. O’Connell, then-president of the university, found a REMBRANDT etching in a restroom closet in his residence.)

Ripa immediately knew what it was. The dress had long been rumoured to still be at the university, but he had spent years looking for it in the theatre’s archives and storage closets before finally giving up.

The university worked with the Smithsonian to verify its authenticity. Yes, this really was the actual dress.

One of the actual dresses, to be more precise. The shoe-boxed treasure was one of four blue and white pinafore dresses made for the movie and one of only two existing dresses with the original white blouse. This one is believed to have been worn in the scene when Dorothy faces the wicked witch in her castle.

The other known version of the blue and white dress was auctioned for $480,000 in 2012, then resold for $1.6 million in 2015. In 2014, the Cowardly Lion costume worn by Bert Lahr sold for over $3 million.

Father Hartke shows off the iconic costume in a photograph for the university paper, The Tower.

Preliminary evaluations of the dress estimated its worth to be between $800,000 to $1.2 million by an international auction house running a “Bonhams Classic Hollywood: Film and Television” sale in Los Angeles.

And in April this year (2022), Catholic University announced it planned to auction the dress.

“We love the dress, but it has never been displayed or shared broadly over the past 50 years and we hope now it will be,” said Jacqueline Leary-Warsaw, dean of the school of music, drama and art. The funds raised would establish a new film acting program and a faculty chair.

A few weeks later, 81-year-old Barbara Ann Hartke filed a lawsuit claiming she was the dress’s rightful owner, not the university.

Barbara is the niece of Dominican Father Gilbert Hartke, the playwright and director who started the university’s theatre department in 1937.

Father Hartke was an interesting man. He was involved in Washington theatre efforts and civil rights advocacy and was friends with U.S. presidents from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan. Hartke was even one of two priests called to stay with the body of President John F. Kennedy at the White House before his funeral.

Both parties agree that Hartke was given the dress in 1973 by actress Mercedes McCambridge, an artist-in-residence at the university that year. It even made the university paper, The Tower.

But Barbara Hartke claims that McCambridge gave the dress “specifically and publicly” to her uncle, not the university, as a thank you gift for “his counseling and support” during her alcohol and substance abuse struggles.

Barbara asserts that it was a personal gift to her uncle – even if nobody has known its whereabouts since his death in 1986.

She says the university “has no ownership interest in the dress as … there is no documentation demonstrating decedent ever formally or informally donated the dress to Catholic University”, and it is, therefore, part of his estate. And, as the closest living relative to her uncle, the dress, therefore, belongs to her.

In their filing against the lawsuit, Catholic University attorneys have said that the dress could not be considered part of the priest’s estate because he had taken priestly vows “to never accept gifts in his personal capacity.” They say they have “overwhelming evidence” and look forward to presenting it in their case.

Maria Mazzenga, a curator of the university’s American Catholic History Collections, wasn’t surprised that a famous actress would have given such a prized costume to the priest. She said the priest had a flair for the unique and owned a silk jacket from India, a 6-foot-long aviator scarf, and a Russian fur hat.

“People gave him clothes because they knew he would like it,” she told Catholic News Service.

I wonder what the theatrical Father Gilbert Hartke would have made of Kourtney K’s “Catholic aesthetic” nuptials?