Painting expected to deepen appreciation for parish’s patron

| Maria Becker | June 10, 2015 | 0 Comments


Artist Mary Klein, a parishioner of St. Thomas More in St. Paul, works on the painting

Artist Mary Klein, a parishioner of St. Thomas More in St. Paul, works on a painting of the parish’s patron that will be displayed in the lunette above a shrine in the church. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

St. Thomas More Church in St. Paul has commissioned a painting of its patron saint, Sir Thomas More, for the lunette above a shrine dedicated to the 16th-century martyr.

Artist Mary Klein, a parishioner of St. Thomas More for more than 20 years, was at Sunday Mass four years ago when Father Joseph Weiss announced the planned commission.

“I turned and whispered to my husband, ‘I can do that!’” Klein recalled.

Father Weiss, a Jesuit, said the parish was going to hire a company to paint their patron, but he changed his mind when he saw Klein’s work, calling it “astounding.”

Using oil paint on canvas, Klein began work on the piece in July 2014. She hopes to finish the painting before Father Weiss leaves for a new parish assignment next summer.

For the project, Klein chose to depict St. Thomas More’s family gathered in prayer. It is based on a painting circa 1527 by Hans Holbein the Younger, a German artist. Fire destroyed the original, but the sketch survived, serving as the basis for a 16th century reproduction by Rowland Lockey, an English painter. Both are the foundation for Klein’s version, which she works on in the church basement.

Track the painting’s progress

The lunette project will be the first Klein has done for a church. Measuring 10 feet wide by 6 feet tall, it is also her largest.

“I would lay in bed at night and just think . . . well, maybe if I lined up all the paintings I’ve done so far, that would be bigger than this one,” she said.

Klein studied at The Atelier Studio Program of Fine Art in Minneapolis and has a background in oil panting and graphic arts. Because she teaches at the Art Academy in St. Paul and Holy Family Academy in St. Louis Park, she intends to dedicate the summer to the lunette project. Donors are funding its $20,000 cost, Father Weiss said.

Both Klein and Father Weiss highlighted the painting’s strong tie to Christian family life, which is why they selected a scene of St. Thomas More’s family rather than a portrait of the saint alone. Father Weiss hopes the finished artwork will remind parishioners and visitors of the importance of families and the saint’s example as a father.

“I think the painting will help people appreciate who St. Thomas More is,” he said.

Prayer was a central aspect of St. Thomas More’s household, Klein said. She aims to make the More family appear as if its members are taking time together for prayer in the midst of a chaotic day — hence the inclusion of 10 people, two dogs, monkey, books and typical household items. Two figures in the background are a teacher and a student.

The teacher is modeled on Father Weiss, who oversaw the 2008 merger of St. Luke and Immaculate Heart of Mary, both on Summit Avenue and already sharing a pre-kindergarten to eighth-grade school, into St. Thomas More. The project comes on the heels of the parish’s 125th anniversary, tied to St. Luke’s 1888 founding.

Klein connects the painting to its anticipated surroundings by giving artwork’s window, floors and bricks similar designs to those in the 90-year-old church building. When finished, it will be installed at the top of an arched niche framing a statue of St. Thomas More on a side aisle in the main church.

Father Weiss said he expects the painting will greatly add to the church’s beauty. When it’s completed, the parish plans to hold a dedication.

“Now I just have to decide what time to put on the clock hanging on the wall [in the painting],” said Klein, gazing at the work in progress.

Who was St. Thomas More?

St. Thomas More was an advisor to King Henry VIII of England who served as Lord Chancellor 1529-1532. He resigned after the king severed ties with the Roman Catholic Church in order to divorce the queen and remarry. After St. Thomas More refused to sign an oath of allegiance to the king as the head of the Church of England, he was beheaded in 1535. The patron of lawyers, he is also patron of the closest parish in St. Paul to William Mitchell College of Law. His feast day is June 22 and shared with St. John Fisher, a fellow martyr under King Henry VIII. He is the patron of the Fortnight for Freedom, the U.S. bishops’ initiative promoting education, prayer and activism for religious liberty June 21-July 4.

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