Via Abbey Roads comes word of this portrait of Father Damian which will be presented to Pope Benedict XVI on the occasion of Father Damien's canonization on Sunday, Oct 11.
The story of the artist and how the painting was accomplished is quite extraordinary.
Fr. Damien, a hero to Hawaiians, ministered to a major leper colony on Molokai where he contracted and eventually succumbed to leprosy in the late nineteenth century.
The late artist Peggy Chun had created the artwork with the help of schoolchildren at Holy Trinity School in Honolulu. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) had affected her to the point where she could only move her eyes.
Despite her crippling symptoms, which led to her death on Nov. 19, 2008, Peggy used an ERICA eye response computer to communicate. She also used a device that would read her brainwaves.
“She was the first brainwave artist on the planet,” said Shelly Mecum, an art teacher and friend of Peggy.
Peggy painted her portrait of Fr. Damien, titled “The Damien,” by directing others. She trained her apprentices in her brushstroke “just like Renaissance artists.” The work is part painting and part mosaic.
She spent 18 months giving directions week by week to paint the 50,000 quarter-inch squares that would be used in the eight-foot by four-foot painting.
She was assisted by 142 children from Holy Trinity school over a period of 18 months. The students, who ranged in age from 5 to 13, understood themselves as “Peggy’s hands.”
“Peggy completely composed this painting,” Mecum explained, saying she chose the posture of the saint based upon photographs. He is in a posture of blessing and is depicted half in shadow to represent the “darkness” of faith.
When students wondered what would happen to the painting after it was done, another fellow art teacher Christine Matsukawa said "out of the blue" that it should be given to the Pope.
Mecum then went to Peggy with the idea.
“Peggy, would you like the painting to be given to the Pope?” she asked.
After a long pause, Peggy started to cry. This caused Mecum to wonder if she did not want to give the painting away.
Then Peggy spelled out in reply the phrase: “That would be the greatest honor of my life – Yes!”
The provincial of Fr. Damien’s order said he thought there could be no more magnificent and appropriate gift.