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Late young Catholic artist’s evangelizing mission seen in newly dedicated college chapel overlooking Shenandoah Valley

Catholic artist Mandy Hain paints Christendom College's Christ the King Chapel crosstower ceiling in this undated photo. Hain, known for living her motto "To make things beautiful, or to make a beautiful thing, is to make Him known" passed away suddenly from cancer at 41, a couple months before the chapel's April 15, 2023, dedication. (OSV News photo/courtesy Christendom College)

FRONT ROYAL, Va. (OSV News) — In March 2021, artist and alumna Mandy Hain was perched, brush in hand, on a cramped crane platform more than 100 feet above the floor of Christendom College’s Christ the King Chapel.

Decorating the brilliant cerulean blue heaven of its crossing tower with polychrome-winged angels hovering amidst eight-pointed shining gold stars, she was prayerfully concentrating on her work, not the cancer that would take her life at age 41, just a little less than two years later and before the official opening of the new cathedral-size church in Front Royal.

But at the April 15 dedication Mass of Christ the King Chapel, Mandy’s own sister — Sister Benedicta Marie of the Sister Servants of the Eternal Word in Birmingham, Alabama — was certain of her nearness. “I know she’s present with us. I felt her presence very strongly in here when I came in right after her death,” Sister Benedicta Marie told OSV News. “I can remember that sense of her presence.”

Sister Benedicta Marie, who offered the second reading during the April 15 Mass, reflected that had Mandy survived her illness to see the chapel dedication, she surely would have felt “an immense joy.”

“She poured herself into this work for the glory of God, and to build up his kingdom,” Sister Benedicta Marie said.

“All of her work was deeply immersed in prayer,” Sister Benedicta Marie explained of Mandy’s artistry, which is visible not only in the crossing tower ceiling of Christ the King Chapel — but also in the several-foot-high Celtic calligraphy that wraps around its perimeter, including the ancient invocation from the Book of Revelation of God’s triune holiness: “Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus.” A plaque memorializing Mandy’s creations will be installed at a later date.

“She really worked from her contemplative spirit, in order to make God known,” Sister Benedicta Maria emphasized, “because she really believed that beauty is a revelation of God, to bring others to him; to reveal him to the world who is so much in need of him.”

A quote from Mandy — reproduced on the reverse of the holy card from her February 2023 visitation and funeral Mass — summarizes both her artistic and work philosophy: “To make things beautiful, or to make a beautiful thing, is to make Him known.”

That same beauty also was visible in the dedication Mass marking the official liturgical opening of Christ the King Chapel.

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge, whose Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, includes Christendom College within its boundaries — was principal celebrant. Cardinal Francis Arinze, a longtime friend of Christendom College, also was on hand, along with 24 Christendom alumni now ordained as priests — whose graduations stretched from 1981 to 2017 — who concelebrated, while EWTN carried the event live.

“There is a theological insight that when we seek to transform the world around us through art, culture, and society, we re-create the world according to the image of God that is within us,” Bishop Burbidge shared in his homily. “We see the very image of God reflecting in the beauty of this chapel.”

Christ the King Chapel is a living testament to the sublime aesthetics of traditional ecclesial art — 114 stained-glass windows and a dozen pealing bells, intricate stone and woodwork, sophisticated masonry and painting and a gloriously thunderous 2,850 pipe organ. A total of 540 worshippers can be seated in its pews, and a relic of St. Thomas Aquinas — the patron saint of universities and scholars — was sealed in the altar during the dedication Mass. When the late Pope Benedict XVI, who blessed the cornerstone, first saw the chapel plans in 2008, he is said to have remarked, “It is beautiful!”

Christendom’s chapel fundraising began in 2016. The campaign concluded in 2018, with groundbreaking a year later. Founded in 1977 — and celebrating its 45th anniversary with the chapel dedication and an accompanying tented gala on the grounds — Christendom College is a four-year, coeducational Roman Catholic liberal arts college offering undergraduate and graduate programs. Its mission statement is “to provide a truly Catholic education in fidelity to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church and thereby to prepare students for their role as lay apostles to restore all things in Christ.”

Christendom President Timothy O’Donnell told OSV News that, “In the midst of the confusion, the social chaos and difficulties we’re going through — we really need the light of Christ.” Building a chapel dedicated to the kingship of Christ, O’Donnell said, is a form of catechesis.

“We have to realize — until we turn back to him who is the way, the truth and the life, we’re going to not be able to get out of the darkness, and out of the confusion,” he said. “So the hope, by building something beautiful like this here, on our campus … is to bear witness.”

“I think a beautiful chapel like this evangelizes,” Bishop Burbidge told OSV News after the dedication Mass. “We evangelize in many ways — but the beauty of this chapel causes you to look up. A number of people have told me driving from the road, the highway — people can see it; you look up. That’s the evangelization piece.”

Christ the King Chapel is indeed visible to passersby from miles away — perhaps both surprising and intriguing those who might not expect to see a towering Gothic cathedral as they motor through the winding green hills of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

“A cathedral like this, out in the countryside, is like a stake in the ground,” Father Francis “Rocky” Hoffman, executive director and CEO of Relevant Radio, told OSV News. “This will be here for centuries,” he predicted. “So it’s a great sign of hope.”

Evangelization reveals the eternal, said Bishop Burbidge. “This journey here on earth is just a journey. But our eyes should always be fixed on what’s above — because that’s the ultimate destination for which we all long. The sacred, the beauty — always does that,” he emphasized. “It always gets you to realize that there’s a life beyond here, and that’s where we’re all headed … truth, goodness, and beauty are powerful ways to evangelize.”

Reflecting on Mandy Hain’s work in Christ the King Chapel, Bishop Burbidge said, “Mandy used her gifts and talents to cause us to look up. And, pray God, she’s up with the Lord right now, enjoying the eternal glory which he promises us.”

Kimberley Heatherington writes for OSV News from Virginia.

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