Morkovsky films bring history to life with online archive

June 12, 2012

SAN ANTONIO — The breeze rustles the cassocks of the clergy gathered outside the cathedral for the installation of Bishop John L. Morkovsky in Amarillo in 1958. Eighth graders from St. Leo in San Antonio on a 1953 school picnic wade in a muddy creek under the watchful eyes of habited nuns perched on a fallen tree. A covered wagon proclaiming “Fayette County” on its canvas briskly rumbles along the crowded parade route for Hostyn’s centennial celebration in 1955, followed by an outdoor Mass at the stone grotto.

And you are there — minus a soundtrack. These are not old pictures frozen in time, but actions captured half a century ago on film by the late Bishop Morkovsky and his brother, Monsignor Alois J. Morkovsky. Both men were dedicated to the Church, their family and their Czech culture and the footage covers everything from religious events to typical home movie fare of a soap box derby and high school rodeo, all shot from the 1940s through 1970s. 
Born in Praha, Bishop Morkovsky served in San Antonio at St. Ann, St. Leo and St. Mary Magdalen parishes and as superintendent of Catholic schools and professor at St. John Seminary. He was appointed auxiliary bishop of Amarillo in 1955, becoming bishop there in 1958 and coadjutor bishop of the Galveston-Houston Diocese in 1963, where he served as bishop from 1975 to 1985. 

Thanks to the Texas Archive of Moving Images (TAMI) in Austin, these and other old films and videos can now be viewed online at The films are primarily in color and the collection, which dates back to the 1930s, only exhibits a portion on the TAMI website. 

Passed down from relative to relative, the Morkovsky films wound up in the hands — or rather, the closet — of Dawn Orsak, whose grandmother, Anastasia Morkovsky Kallus, was the youngest and last surviving sibling of the Morkovsky brothers until her passing in January. 

Orsak’s brother, Stephen Orsak, an audio-video technician and music artist in Austin, was the one who stumbled onto the TAMI website and learned of its Texas Film Round-Up program which offers free digitalization of Texas-related film and video. The originals are returned to the owners along with free digital copies.

Thanks to this, the Orsaks were able to bring the Morkovsky brothers’ old home movies of family reunions to the last two Orsak family reunions in Hallettsville, Texas, for viewing. 

As a result, Morkovsky descendents were able to identify many family members in the films, “but even those can’t necessarily identify the church stuff and the Czech cultural events,” said Orsak, “so it would really be wonderful if somebody saw them and could identify them, for historical purposes.”

The digitizing of the Morkovsky films has sparked family interest in finding a suitable permanent home for the original 8-millemeter films — and in preserving future history. “We need to be more diligent about recording what people say,” Dawn Orsak said of future reunions, “and identify people in individual films.” Her blog at explores Czech foods with hearty helpings of culture, history and family tossed in.
Her brother Stephen has introduced a new aspect to the old films, creating music videos that feature his hauntingly ethereal music played with unedited portions of some of Bishop Morkovsky’s scenic travel footage as backdrop, viewable at The bishop and the monsignor would be proud.

*Excerpt and photos reprinted with permission from San Antonio’s Today’s Catholic.