John Paul II Library   -  Franciscan University of Steubenville

Portrait of John Paul II

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A life-sized portrait of Pope John Paul II in his years as a university student graces the library. The painting is by reknown portrait artist Lisa Steinbrenner Andrews. The words in the lower portion of the painting, "During Unrest the Lord Will Strike," are the title of a visionary poem by Juliusz Slowacki about a Slavic Pope who would one day be a "brother" to all humanity. The vines that frame the prophetic words are morning glories - also know as Mary's Mantle. They are a traditional symbol of the of the protective nature of the Virgin Mary, whom the Pope credited with saving his life during an assassination attempt. His right hand holds the book King-Spirit, another mystical poem by Slowacki. In his left hand he holds a rosary.

Behind the figure of Wojtyla are two landscapes. On the left is the Zakrzówek quarry where he worked as a student. It also refers to the title of his major poetic work, The Quarry, written while he was the head of the Institute of Ethics at Lublin University. The image on the right is the façade of Jagellonian University in Krakow.

The future Pope's face conveys strength and determination, firmly grounded in unwavering faith. The life of Karol Wojtyla is a testament to the heights to which one can rise in the service of the Lord, even during times of great tribulation. In the library his gaze is directed toward the entrance, looking upon the university students who are the future of his beloved church.

The text of the artist's presentation speech that explains the painting's imagery and symbolism can be found here.

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Comments by the Artist   Lisa Steinbrenner Andrews

I would like to thank Father Terence Henry, Father Mike Scanlan, Frank Glazer, and the Board of Trustees of Franciscan University for having the courage and the confidence in me to undertake this project. I would also like to thank Susan Hunt for being such a help in coordinating all the details to make this happen, to Charles White and his Physical Plant staff for such a great job in hanging and lighting the painting, Bill Jakub and the Library Staff, and all those whose prayers supported me throughout this process.

I would especially like to thank the student body of Franciscan University for providing me with the inspiration for the subject of this painting.

I had no idea when I began this project what a profound impact it would already have on so many people, and it is only being shown publicly for the first time today

The story of how it came to be is a testament in itself to the way God uses small things to make a difference. As I contemplated an image which would be suitable for this vast wall space, I played with the idea that the John Paul II Library should have an image incorporating the Pope himself. The idea of showing him at the same stage of life as the students of the University seemed both original and appropriate. Before developing the concept further, I wanted to get a “reality check”, so I called my son who is a student here. If he thought it was an idea worth pursuing, I would do it. His immediate reaction was, “Awesome!” That momentary reaction made the difference, another response might have resulted in a different story today. But this is the painting that was meant to hang here.

And today is such a meaningful time for so many to see it for the first time. History does not ask us what we want. But it demands that we participate. I am not a historian or a theologian. But I believe there will be a pre-John Paul II era and a post-John Paul II era in the study of Church history. The full impact of his influence on world history may not be understood for many years. Although we are not the generation to write that chapter, we are the generation to have touched it personally. I think what we are experiencing in the events of the past week must be similar to what Francis of Assisi’s followers experienced at his passing

This portrait could not hang in any other place and have the same significance, the same impact. It was painted for this precise place, and for you at this precise stage of your lives. In it, I attempted to personalize for you a critical moment in world and Church history when God called, and someone answered

Karol Wojtyla was once a young adult like you, with the same struggle to find his place in the world. When he heard the roar of bombs on that fateful day while praying at Mass, he knew what direction he would take. In some ways, his decision was easier because it was stark: he could see and touch death at his doorstep. But he chose the way of life and never looked back, giving us all an embodiment of Christ’s love for our own age.

I think a good portrait not only has to look like the person, but it should convey something about his life story through symbols. The Pope was an athletic man, with a casual grace and relaxed demeanor. I placed him off center on the canvas, with his head turned towards the opposite edge, as though he was initially going in one direction in his life, but something caused him to turn towards a different path with confidence and faith. He actually intended to work in the theater when he entered the University, but the world became his stage, instead. The storm clouds are an obvious metaphor, but they are placed both behind him and ahead of him to signify past and future challenges. He, however, is caught in the clear sky with the light of truth illuminating his face.

The quote at the bottom of the canvas, “During Unrest the Lord Will Strike,” is the title and first line of a nineteenth-century mystical poem written by one of the Pope’s favorite Polish authors, Juliusz Slowacki. In it, the poet predicts the election of a Slavic Pope who would one day be a “brother” to humanity. That prediction would come true over a hundred years later with the election of Pope John Paul II.

The letters are bordered by Morning Glory vines, which were traditionally known as “Mary’s Mantle” and used as a symbol of the protective nature of the Blessed Virgin. Karol Wojtyla was saved from death several times in his youth, even before the assassination attempt which prompted him to credit Our Lady with saving his life

The rosary he holds is another reference to his devotion to Our Blessed Mother. It is actually painted from a 70-year-old family rosary that came from Rome, and which bears a medal with the Papal seal.

The book he holds is inscribed with the words “King Spirit” which was the title of another poem by Slowacki and also the title of the first dramatic production of the theater company the Pope helped found while a student in Krakow during the War.

The landscape on the right shows the fa´┐Żade of Jagellonian University in Krakow where he studied during his freshman year. The landscape on the left side is of the stone quarry where he was forced to work by day after the Nazi invasion of Poland in September of 1939. At night, he and other students met in safe houses to take classes from faculty of the University who survived the Nazi purge.

I hope as you look at this portrait, you see some of the strength and compassion that marked the very essence of this man. His greatness lay most clearly in his deep love of humanity and in his ability to elevate even the simplest person to see the love of God. I hope it inspires you to look deeper into the life and teachings of this great gift we were privileged to share during our lifetime.

And I ask you to ponder one last thing: If this were a portrait of you, would your head be in the clouds, or in the clarity of truth? Would you be looking towards the future with hope, or casting your eyes in another direction? Would you have the strength of reason in your hand, and faith in prayer at your fingertips, or would you be grasping at your future with empty hands? What would your portrait look like?


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