Artist-mother's murals to create 'Hall of American Saints'
By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
GLADSTONE - Bare walls won't do at St. Andrew School. Not when there's an artist in the parish and lessons in spirituality to learn.
Kevin Kelly/Key photo
Lesly Fruge paints the finishing touches on her mural of St. Frances Cabrini, the first in a series that will grace the "Hall of American Saints" at St. Andrew School in Gladstone.
Lesly Fruge, 23 and a mother of two toddlers, will spend her summer bringing the "Hall of American Saints" to life in a much traveled hallway connecting the school with the gym and the pre-school with the cafeteria.
And she's doing it for free, she said, as she finished her first mural of St. Frances Cabrini, the first U.S. citizen to be canonized. She won't even let the school buy her paints and brushes.
"I love this parish," she said. "This is what I can give."
The mural of St. Frances Cabrini is a virtual storybook in paint. Surrounding the portrait of the saint is the New York skyline, where she began her ministry in 1889 by founding an orphanage, which is also depicted in the mural. There is also a sailing ship, symbolizing St. Frances Cabrini's many travels to establish charitable agencies across the U.S. and South America.
St. Frances Cabrini, a native of Italy, became a U.S. citizen in 1909 and died in 1917 in Chicago.
Fruge's other murals will depict St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Katherine Drexel, St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, St. John Newman, and Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha.
"It will offer children positive role models, and they will be with them (the saints) all the time," said Franciscan Sister Leona Bax, school prinicpal.
Fruge said she spends time researching the lives of each saint before she draws the design for the mural, and she is surprised about what she is learning.
"I may have learned a little bit about them in school, but I didn't know all the stories," she said.
Fruge said she began doing parish artwork when St. Andrew pastor, Father Joseph Mancuso, put a notice in the bulletin for someone with talent to help create a wall commemorating the people who donated to the drive to build the school.
Mary Ann Langley and Karen Othic, who are mosaic artists, volunteered, but it was Fruge who drew the design of the giving tree that now graces the church entrance hall. The design was made entirely out of pieces of broken dishes.
That accomplished, Father Mancuso again prevailed upon Fruge to paint a portrait of the Jesus of the Divine Mercy over the confessional doors. Fruge's finished product has Jesus between the confessionals, with the familiar red and white rays emanating from his heart shining down across each door.
"How appropriate that this is the place our people receive the mercy of Jesus," Father Mancuso said.
With the second project completed, Father Mancuso asked for more - the long-planned "Hall of American Saints."
Fruge said that once she finishes her research and completes each design, it takes her about eight hours of painting to complete each mural. She credited her husband, Jason, for caring for her two young daughters during evening hours so she is free to paint.
And painting, she said, is as necessary to her as breathing.
"It is who I am," she said. "I have to paint."
Fruge said she is grateful for the chance at St. Andrew.
"He (Father Mancuso) hadn't seen any of my stuff before. He just asked me to do this," she said. "I just better do a good job, because I don't want to disappoint him."