'Grasped by the Holy Spirit'

The Catholic Spirit

When Holy Spirit parish in St. Paul added a ministry center in 2001, Father Michael Papesh, pastor, wanted the space to reflect the church building across the street. In addition to romanesque-style arches carried over from the church’s design, he commissioned St. Paul artist Richard Schletty to paint a mural depicting the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Today the mural, entitled “Grasped by the Holy Spirit,” serves as a vivid reminder to school children who eat lunch under it every day and to parishioners who gather there of the influence the Spirit has in their lives.

“I wanted to depict on that wall what it meant to be grasped by the Holy Spirit, who is our patron,” Father Papesh said.

Schletty, 50, who has created other murals around the Twin Cities including one at St. Matthew in St. Paul where he is a parishioner, said he employed a high-tech method to create the Holy Spirit mural. He used a digital camera to capture scenes from parish life to represent each of the seven gifts. Schletty then used a computer to superimpose the images over a panoramic view of St. Paul. The resulting 50-by-15-foot image was printed out on a wide format inkjet printer and partitioned into 1 inch sections which corresponded to one-foot sections on the wall. This served as his guide for painting. Once the design work was complete, it took Schletty six months to paint the massive work of art on a single canvas.

The last element he added was a dove, symbolic of the Holy Spirit, hovering above the city. Originally, the dove had an “aggressive, menacing” look, Schletty said. But he later softened its appearance to avoid frightening some of the younger school children.

Schletty said he read several books on the Holy Spirit in preparation for the design. What he learned was that “the infusion of the Holy Spirit is kind of like a thunderclap, like being knocked off your horse like Paul.”

“I had some ideas of putting a lot of turbulence in the picture because a lot of times the Holy Spirit is not neat and tidy when he comes into people’s lives,” Schletty said.

The image didn’t turn out quite as “swirling” as he would have liked, “but that’s largely a product of having to do this on such a large scale and partly a product of designing on the computer — you lose some of that freshness and looseness,” he said.

Included in the image are parish council members who represent wisdom; Schletty’s former professor from St. John’s University in Collegeville represents knowledge; members of his daughter’s soccer team represent counsel; kindergartners photographed while watching a wrecking ball raze a building represent fear of the Lord; Schletty’s daughter sketching represents understanding; his daughter’s friend who has a physical disability represents fortitude and a parish Mass with Archbishop Harry Flynn represents piety.

Some 40 parishioners are depicted, Father Papesh pointed out.

“Physically, this was probably the most demanding mural I’ve done, the most taxing — emotionally too,” Schletty said.

“From a mechanical standpoint, it was very much a challenge to put that whole 50-foot-wide, 15-foot-high painting on one piece of canvas,” Schletty said. “I didn’t want to do it; I wanted to paint right on the wall, but Father said no, this is a painting, it has to be on canvas. I said we’ll do it in sections, but Father said then you’ll see the seams.

“I felt like Michaelangelo being given impossible demands by the pope,” Schletty said with a chuckle, “yet we figured out a way to do it.” Schletty painted the image using a hydraulic lift after the canvas was secured to the wall.

Today, the mural is the “heart of the new space” and serves as a teaching tool to all who gaze upon it, Father Papesh said. “I think the mural is inspired.”

For more information about the mural or to view details, visit www.schletty.com.