By Lois Rogers | Correspondent
Something beautiful for God.
That was what Janet Madigan wanted to create when she embarked on a project in 2016 to capture the visual impact of the three cycles of Sunday Gospel readings Catholics listen to weekly at Mass.
Photo Gallery: Janet Madigan’s Gospel Reading Paintings
“Every Sunday, people hear the Gospel. I wanted to illustrate those words,” said Madigan, an artist who is perhaps best known to her fellow communicants in Neptune’s Holy Innocents Parish as the organist who has accompanied those Masses for years.
“I wanted to paint them in a way that Jesus was not just standing there speaking,” but active and involved in “fishing in the dark, feeding his lambs and sheep, sacrificing his life for them,” said Madigan, who studied art in The Catholic University of America, Washington, where she also honed her musical skills.
As she envisioned it, each weekly painting would tell the Gospel story visually like a mural on a canvas of 18-by-24 inches. “They are not like a cartoon [strip] of eight boxes,” she said. “I try to do all the scenes in a way so they tell the story seamlessly, in a cohesive way.”
That she is more than fulfilling her intention was apparent on a recent sunny afternoon when Madigan brought a wide representative sampling of the works to the nave of Holy Innocents Church to be viewed.
Among them were paintings detailing the transformation of water into wine at the Wedding Feast at Cana, the first miracle attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of John; the meeting of the Virgin Mary and her cousin Elizabeth at the Visitation, which depicts the babies in both their wombs, and striking canvases reflecting Gospel accounts of Christ’s Passion.
“I think they are unique, and I certainly tried my best to make them so,” said Madigan, who envisions them being used collectively in the future on posters in church gathering spaces or in classrooms.
“I am not skipping any” of the stories said Madigan, who noted that when the project comes to a conclusion this fall, each and every Sunday Gospel of the three-year cycle will be represented.
Giving Back to God
It has been written that biblical art can help the faithful see the passages with “fresh eyes.” In this sense, the artist becomes an interpreter, pointing out details that might have been overlooked when reading the text or listening.
Indeed, a strong sense of that emerges when talking with Madigan. While she flourished as a painter along the Jersey Shore after college, winning numerous awards for her secular work, she discovered it was difficult making a living as an artist.
While she and her late husband, Thomas, raised their three children – Thomas, Jr., Joseph and Mary Beth – she focused on giving piano lessons and playing the organ first in St. Catharine-St. Margaret Parish, Spring Lake, and then Holy Innocents.
The loss of a fourth child, Francis, who died in the hospital shortly after his birth, came as a severe blow to the couple.
“It was a heart-wrenching, difficult time,” said Madigan, who noted that working through her grief with the help of caring clergy brought her closer to the Church. “It spurred me to go to daily Mass,” a practice she continues to observe with love and devotion.
While the children were growing, Mass and Church became a “beautiful center of my life,” said Madigan. Eventually, she made it her mission to give her art to the Church as well as her music.
“The time came when the empty nest syndrome set in,” said Madigan, a grandmother of six. With her husband since passed and her children out on their own, “I began thinking, ‘How can I give back to God?’
“I was thinking how to use the talent, and I could imagine standing in front of God and he would point to religious artwork in heaven and say, ‘This is what you could have done.’ It put me on the right track,” she said.
As she works patiently and consistently toward her goal of finishing all of the paintings before the First Sunday of Advent – when the new Church year will begin and the cycle will start again – Madigan expressed her gratitude to Holy Innocents’ pastor, Father H. Todd Carter, who encouraged her by having the paintings appear each week around the Church on an easel.
Parish music director Christa Dalmazio said she looks forward each week to seeing the paintings. “Every week, I look for the illustration. It always brings out details that I’ve missed. Its bright colors help you remember the message.”