Other than maybe Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, not many artists have gotten a plug for their work from a pope.
But it happened last week to Charlotte artist Chas Fagan, whose portrait of Mother Teresa was tweeted by Pope Francis on the day she became St. Teresa of Kolkata.
On Sept. 4, the date of her canonization in Rome, the pope tweeted Fagan’s portrait of the smiling nun, as it appeared on a large banner hanging from the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica.
The tweet from @Pontifex included this message: “Let us carry Mother Teresa’s smile in our hearts and give it to those we meet along our journey.”
The pope also celebrated Mass in the new saint’s honor in St. Peter’s Square. Among the many thousands on hand was Fagan, who got a seat way up front because his painting – commissioned by the Knights of Columbus – was the official portrait for the occasion.
Though Mother Teresa devoted her life to serving the destitute and dying, mostly in India, Fagan’s vision of her was of her smiling – a feature he’s glad Pope Francis picked up on.
“The hope is that people looking at the portrait will see that radiating joy and that humility,” said Fagan, speaking Sunday from his Myers Park home after returning from Rome.
The greatest compliment Fagan received in Rome for his rendering may have come from Sister Frederick. Now 100 years old and in a wheelchair, she is a co-founder of the Missionaries of Charity – the religious order led by Mother Teresa – who had served by her side since the 1960s.
Fagan ran into Sister Frederick inside the Vatican last Monday – St. Teresa’s first official feast day.
“Someone pulled out a larger print of the painting and she held it right up to her nose, inspecting every little detail,” Fagan said. “And then she looked up and said, ‘She’s alive.’ ”
There were other thrills for the Charlotte artist, who attends St. Peter Catholic Church in uptown Charlotte.
Like when he slipped away to investigate all the commotion coming from near Pope Francis’ Vatican apartment – children were shouting “Papa!” Fagan arrived in time to see the pontiff thank a group of pizza makers for cooking authentic Neapolitan pies for 1,500 homeless people from around Italy. The pizza party was one of the pope’s ways of celebrating Mother Teresa’s canonization.
Fagan is noted for his official portraits and sculptures of U.S. presidents, which can be seen in the U.S. Capitol and at presidential libraries. But he said he experienced a first for him a few days before the Mass in Rome, when the Mother Teresa portrait was publicly unveiled for the first time.
The Knights of Columbus, which held the unveiling, had also printed more than a million holy cards bearing Fagan’s image of Mother Teresa.
“A group of sisters (from Mother Teresa’s order) were there for the unveiling. They gathered and each took a prayer card. And they were praying to it,” Fagan said. “That started to clue me in that this was important for a lot of people.”