By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
BURLINGTON — Visitors to Notre Dame Catholic School’s chapel can now look up at a starry sky, day or night, and think of God’s presence, thanks to a new ceiling mural.
In the mural, 12 prominent stars represent the 12 apostles chosen by Christ to follow him, reminding all who enter the chapel “to do the same,” said religion teacher Jennifer Baxter. The three largest stars in the mural represent the Holy Family. A comet that passed by when Notre Dame opened its doors in 1957 also is depicted in the mural.
Magon Van Zee, an artist and school parent who painted the mural, drew inspiration from the night sky mural at St. Mary Cathedral in Peoria, Illinois. Religion teachers Jennifer Baxter and Maria Roth had visited the cathedral during a field trip to the Venerable Fulton Sheen Museum and tomb. “We fell in love with the beauty of the night sky painted above,” Baxter said, noting the Notre Dame chapel ceiling was “a blank slate.”
Baxter reached out to Van Zee, whose work can be seen in businesses and homes in the Burlington area, and asked if she would be interested in painting the ceiling mural. “They wondered if it was something we could duplicate, and I said, ‘absolutely.’” Van Zee offered to paint the mural at a reduced rate. Work started in late April and took about two weeks to complete.
Van Zee, a nondenominational Christian, prayed and listened to gospel music while completing the mural. After laying down a base coat, she used a faux painting technique to create a galaxy with blue and teal tones. Then, she painted the stars. “I feel blessed that people trusted me and that I can use (my painting abilities) to glorify God,” she said. “It was very much a privilege.”
A community supporter donated a scissor lift rental for Van Zee. She usually uses scaffolding, which requires lengthy setup and takedown. This was her first time using a lift. She got stuck once, but staff near the chapel helped her get the lift down. Using the lift was “a really cool experience and now I can cross it off my bucket list.” It also allowed her to finish the painting in half the time, she said.
Donors covered the cost of materials and labor, said Development Director Jon Billups. Donors included alumnus Terry Blindt, who won last year’s Pot of Blue and Gold Raffle, alumni/parents Kenny and Teresa Brueck and their adult children, and alumnus Alex Dehner and his wife, Rita.
Father James Flattery and Principal Bill Maupin had the opportunity to use the lift — and contribute to the project — by installing new lighting. Father Flattery is parochial vicar of Divine Mercy Parish in Burlington/West Burlington and St. Mary Parish in Dodgeville. “Father James was a natural on the lift equipment, so was Bill,” Billups said.
The school plans to host an open house at the beginning of the 2022-23 school year so people can see the mural up close. “We want students and teachers and anyone who walks into the school to be drawn to the chapel. This is where our Lord resides. We want it to be a beautiful place for him,” Baxter said. “We imagine students stopping by the chapel before a test or if they have a problem with someone, to talk to the Lord. The ceiling is beautiful, but he is still the focus.”
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