Home > NewsRelease > Papal Gift of Painting ‘Fr. Damien of Molokai’ Honors Saint, Fulfills Hawaiian Artist’s Final Wish
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Papal Gift of Painting ‘Fr. Damien of Molokai’ Honors Saint, Fulfills Hawaiian Artist’s Final Wish
Carolyn Long --  Angels Over America Carolyn Long -- Angels Over America
Columbia, MD
Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fr. Damien of Molokai, by Hawaiian artist Peggy Chun
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By Carolyn K. Long

Rome_October 14, 2009__A spectacular eight-by-four foot mural of Fr. Damien of Molokai is being presented to Pope Benedict XVI today at his weekly public audience at St. Peter?s Square in Rome, honoring the new Saint and fulfilling the final wish of Hawaii?s beloved artist Peggy Chun.

Fr. Molokai, the Roman Catholic priest from Belgium (1840-1089) who devoted his life to caring for those quarantined with leprosy (Hansen?s Disease) on the Island of Molokai until his own death by the disease, was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on October 11, along with four other saints.

Artist Peggy Chun longed to create a large painting of Fr. Damien for years, but her paralysis from ALS (Lou Gehrig?s Disease) made it seem impossible ? until author and elementary school teacher Shelly Mecum helped make it happen. Paralyzed except for her eyes, Chun communicated by pointing to letters or numbers on a spell board to form words, which Mecum painstakingly translated, letter by letter. In this way Chun dictated every detail of the work, from her overall vision for the painting to the color formulas for the mosaic pieces for the portrait.

?She trained her apprentices in her brushstroke just like the Renaissance artists,? explained Mecum. Guided by Mecum, 142 elementary school students from Holy Trinity School in Aina Haina, Oahu, painted the 50,000 half-inch squares for the mosaic over an 18 month period, using Chun?s formulas. The students, ranging from 5 to 13, considered themselves ?Peggy?s hands. ? The back of the painting bears 142 handprints by the students in place of their signatures.

Mecum brought Polish artist and restorationist Magdalena Hawajska to Oahu to implement Chun?s design and vision, and integrate the mosaic pieces. The piece incorporates Hawajska?s restoration of Chun's watercolor painting Molokai, a starry night leading into a blazing sunrise, a likeness of Fr. Damian from photos, and Father Damien?s outstretched hand (an imprint of Peggy Chun's own hand), blessing dozens of other reaching hands. The students? mosaic pieces form parts of the sky and Molokai coastline.

The eight-by-four-foot mural, both painting and mosaic, was unveiled at the Hawaiian State Capitol in March 2008.

"We made a deathbed promise to Peggy to present the painting to the Pope during the time of Fr. Damien?s canonization," said Shelly Mecum, ?though we had no idea how we would accomplish that at the time.? Mecum had collaborated with Chun on "The Watercolor Cat,? writing the text of the children's book which tells Chun's story through the eyes of Chun's pet cat.

Chun died last November after years of struggling with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), but against all odds, Shelly Mecum has kept her promise to her friend. Denver philanthropist John Saeman assisted Mecum in securing preferential seating at the Oct. 14 general audience so she could present the mosaic to the Pope. Delta Airlines President Ed Bastian authorized airfare from Hawaii to Rome for Mecum, fellow Holy Trinity teacher Christine Matsukawa and two eighth-graders, Lorrin Baptista and Mark Giron. Best Western International is hosting the group in Rome. And Fr. Damien?s order in Rome arranged for transportation of the painting to the Vatican.

?I was moved to tears by the support we have received from so many people,? said Mecum. ?I will be grateful to God for the rest of my life for this miracle fulfilling Peggy?s dream. ?

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