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Cleveland nun honored as official from Vatican views her mural

Mother Mary Thomas
Carrie Wise
Ideastream Public Media
Mother Mary Thomas beams while talking about her mural and the viewing of it by Sister Raffaella Petrini, secretary general of the Vatican City State, at St. Paul's Shrine in Cleveland Sunday, April 30, 2023.

Mother Mary Thomas never imagined all of the attention her art would bring. The 90-year-old cloistered nun spent more than a decade creating a large canvas mural of Mary, Jesus and various saints, which advocates of her art have hoped would one day reach the Vatican Museums in Rome. On Sunday, a high-ranking member of the Vatican met with Thomas and viewed her art while in Cleveland.

“It was wonderful,” Thomas said. “She was especially friendly and very nice to speak to.”

Sister Raffaella Petrini, secretary general of the Vatican City State, declined to be photographed or comment publicly. She was visiting the Ohio chapter of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums (PAVM), which supports the preservation of the Vatican's art collections.

“She was quite impressed,” said Lorraine Dodero, board chair of the Ohio chapter of PAVM. “It was very enlightening for her to meet Mother and share exactly how she did the artwork on her hands and knees for all those years.”

It is too soon to say if Petrini’s visit will affect the future of the mural, Dodero said.

“Her viewing of it would be something that she would be taking back and discussing with the dignitaries that are there,” Dodero said. “We’re hopeful that in the future something possibly could come, but we cannot promise.”

The nearly 30-foot-long mural currently fills a second-floor chapel at St. Paul’s Shrine on Euclid Avenue in Cleveland’s MidTown neighborhood. Thomas lives in the monastery on the grounds with the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration.

She first created the mural for a parish in Philadelphia, however the commissioning church closed in 2013 before the piece was completed. Thomas then evolved the original design, which recognizes “saints of… practically every century, not just canonized, but just ordinary people like ourselves,” she said in an interview in 2016.

The Ideastream video from 2017 shared below details more about the mural and Thomas' art.

Cleveland Nun Paints Prayers in Mural

Advocates of her work have long dreamed of sharing this work at the Vatican Museums in Rome. In Northeast Ohio, a couple of her other paintings are on display in St. Paul’s Shrine, and sales of her art at charity auctions help financially support the Poor Clares.

After Petrini’s visit and Sunday mass, several people greeted Thomas and took photos of her and her mural.

“It’s such a great privilege and an honor for me to have all you people as friends,” she said, smiling. “You’re such a support to me, and I hope I am to you all.”

Carrie Wise is the deputy editor of arts and culture at Ideastream Public Media.