‘Acts of Mercy’ series features art of Ade Bethune

| December 3, 2015 | 0 Comments

ActsOfMercy_logoBWThe logo of The Catholic Spirit’s Year of Mercy series depicts two people: One is reaching down to cloak the other’s shoulders, who is gazing back at the giver. It was chosen because of the way it shows “encounter,” a dominant theme of Pope Francis’ papacy, and a focal point for the Year of Mercy. When the pope speaks of building a “culture of encounter,” he is urging people to love God and others, and to engage and accompany other people, especially those on society’s edges.

The Year of Mercy series logo shows a person clothing the naked, one of the 14 corporal and spiritual works of mercy The Catholic Spirit’s “Acts of Mercy” series plans to highlight during the Year of Mercy. Installments will focus on people in the archdiocese who have made a particular work of mercy a central part of their lives.

The logo was taken from a series created by liturgical artist Ade Bethune, known for illustrating “The Catholic Worker,” the publication of The Catholic Worker movement. According to St. Catherine University in St. Paul, which holds a special collection of Bethune’s works in its archives, Bethune discovered the movement in 1933 in New York after studying in the Boston stained glass studios of Charles J. Connick, the artist who designed the rose windows in the Cathedral of St. Paul.

After the newspaper published four of her black-and-white ink drawings, she designed its iconic masthead, first used in 1935. She revised the masthead in 1985, and that version continues to be used today.

“Whenever I visited Ade I came away with a renewed zest for life,” wrote Dorothy Day, co-founder of The Catholic Worker movement, in her autobiography, “The Long Loneliness.” “She has such a sense of the sacramentality of life, the goodness of things, a sense that is translated in all her works whether it was illustrating a missal, making stained-glass windows or sewing, cooking or gardening.”

Depicting ordinary people

Born in 1914 in Brussels, Belgium, Bethune and her family immigrated to New York City in 1928. Besides her summer-long studies in Boston, she lived in New York until moving in 1938 to Newport, Rhode Island, where she worked in the artist workshop of John Howard Benson, one of her artistic mentors.

According to a short biography of Bethune on St. Kate’s website, “her early works reflect her observations and sympathies toward the poor and disadvantaged people she saw all around her in Depression-era New York. Ms. Bethune was especially talented at drawings that depict biblical scenes, and at drawing saints.

“The people in her drawings tend to be working class, ordinary people dressed in the common clothes of the present day. They perform everyday chores and often are shown in what she called ‘acts of mercy,’ such as nursing the sick, feeding the hungry and housing the homeless.”

Much of Bethune’s work was commissioned by Catholic patrons for parishes, including a baptistery mosaic for the Cathedral of St. Paul. She also worked as a liturgical consultant. Among her earliest consulting projects was the design of St. Leo in St. Paul, which has since merged with other parishes to become Lumen Christi.

Bethune was active in the Liturgical Movement, as well as liturgy and art organizations and publications, and continued to advance charitable, civic and social causes, especially around safe housing for low-income people in Newport. She died there in 2002 in a senior living community she helped to develop.

St. Paul native Sister Judith Stoughton, a Sister of St. Joseph, historian and longtime St. Kate’s professor, wrote a biography of Bethune, “Proud Donkey of Schaerbeek: Ade Bethune, Catholic Worker Artist,” published in 1988 by North Star Press, St. Cloud.

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Category: Year of Mercy