A Modern-Day Michelangelo Begins Work at SHU

News Story: March 7, 2013

Casual observers unfamiliar with the construction project at the center of the Sacred Heart University campus might mistake its steel girders as the frame of a library or other educational edifice.

The interior project that began Sunday leaves no doubt as to the building’s intended purpose as a place of worship – the new Chapel that will serve as the spiritual center of the campus.

Ignoring the sleep deprivation and jet lag that result from international travel and arrival in a time zone different from one’s own, Fr. Marko Rupnik and his team of 15 artists installed the first pieces of liturgical art on the walls of the main Eucharistic Hall and the smaller Chapel of the Nativity. They will continue to work over the next two weeks completing mosaics of the Incarnation, the Nativity and other theological themes.

According to the biblical story of Genesis, God rested on the seventh day. But in iconographic artistic tradition, the process of installing liturgical art begins on Sunday, and Rupnik did not want to break with tradition.

“The ancient Christian tradition was that they worked on the iconography on Sunday. It begins with the face of the Lord because Sunday is the day of the Lord. We did not want to lose this opportunity to begin on Sunday according to this tradition,” said Rupnik, who is director of Rome’s Centro Aletti workshop of spiritual art and a consultant for the Pontifical Council for Culture.

In 1999, with the Centro Aletti workshop, Rupnik completed renovation on the mosaics of the Redemptoris Mater Chapel, a project entrusted to him by Pope John Paul II. His work will also be featured at the Basilica of Notre Dame du Rosaire at Lourdes, France.

Their day began with Mass in the University’s existing chapel, where they were joined by the University’s president, Dr. Anthony J. Cernera, and by Dr. David L. Coppola, SHU’s assistant VP for Administration. Then the artists donned hard hats and headed into the new Chapel to continue the work they had begun in Rome last spring.

“They had to do the central figures before they arrived on campus. Because of the size and intricacy of the mosaic murals, it would be impossible for them to complete the project on site in two weeks,” Coppola said. The mosaics include hundreds of colors and hundreds of thousands of stone and tile pieces.

Before they began uncrating the work they had completed in Rome, mixing the adhesive solution of Mapei powder and Isolastic liquid and climbing the scaffold to affix the mosaics to the 28-foot-tall walls, Rupnik brought everyone to the back of the Eucharistic Hall where he led them in prayer, asking for blessings as they work to honor God with their talent and leave their indelible mark on the Sacred Heart community.

“The mosaics, in particular, begin to put a face on the interior of the building, literally and figuratively,” Coppola said. “If one sees someone far away and doesn’t recognize their face, they still know that person is a person and is alive. But it’s not until you see the person’s face and recognize him or her that there is now a relationship, there is now a meaning that you share with each other and bring to each other; so the mosaics put the face of recognition for believers as well as seekers to what this space is about,” Coppola said.