Mater Admirabilis

The Feast of Mater Admirabilis is Monday, and Sacred Heart schools around the world are celebrating it this week.  “Mater” commemorates the fresco painted in 1844 by Pauline Perdrau, an RSCJ novice, at the Trinita dei Monti (formerly a convent of the Religious of the Sacred Heart that sits at the top of the Spanish Steps in Rome).  Pauline requested to paint a fresco of Mary in a niche in the hallway, and the Mother Superior granted her request in spite of a concern that Pauline did not have the skill required for fresco painting.  When the fresco was completed, the Mother Superior decried Pauline’s “too vivid”  and “garish” use of color, and the painting was hidden behind a curtain.

Two years later, Pope Pius IX happened to be visiting on October 20.  He desired to see what was behind the curtain, and despite the nuns’ exhortations to move on, the curtain was opened.  The years had mellowed the fresco colors, the fresco did what frescoes do, and the Pope exclaimed “Mater Admirabilis” (“Mother Most Admirable”) at the beauty of Pauline’s work.  You can find a version of Mater at every Sacred Heart campus around the world (ours is glazed into the glass of the Columbus Room window that faces the courtyard).

I’m glad this event happened in October all those years ago, because, in the calendar of the school year, October is one of those months (along with February and sometimes April) where educators need encouragement.  The adrenaline of the new year has worn off; Thanksgiving break is still far away.  October finds us with “the work in the rough”, and the story of Mater reminds us that there is a very real possibility for beauty even with the most challenging instances.  Just because something is not beautiful today does not mean it will not be by June (or a few Junes from now).  Perdrau’s fresco was once deemed ugly and is now celebrated around the world; guys who may be getting progress reports today do indeed become handsome, “together”, confident young men on stage at graduation.

Happy Feast.

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