Curtis Lewis' new painting, 'Saint,' along with companion coloring book, inspires kids to honor 'a name worth remembering'
GROSSE POINTE PARK — St. Clare of Montefalco Catholic School celebrated the ninth anniversary of Pope St. John Paul II’s canonization with the unveiling of a mural of the late pope made by local artist Curtis Lewis titled “Saint.”
“Today, we are here to honor a man who has become a saint,” Lewis told the gathered schoolchildren April 27. “You know they say that the greatest legacy that a man can leave behind to the world is an honorable name worth remembering. St. Pope John Paul II, his name is definitely worth remembering.”
Pope John Paul II, born Karol Wojtyła, became the first Polish pope in 1978 until his death in 2005. The beloved pope was beatified on May 1, 2011, and canonized on April 27, 2014.
The unveiling took place following all-school Mass with Fr. Andrew Kowalczyk, CSMA, who is originally from Poland. In addition to unveiling the painting, Lewis’s wife, author Cynthia Henley, debuted a St. John Paul II coloring book, distributing signed copies for the children in attendance. Lewis and Henley have co-authored several historical coloring books, including one featuring Aretha Franklin and one featuring former President Barack Obama.
Although Lewis is not Catholic, he said he has long admired Pope John Paul II and was present when the pope came to visit the then-primarily Polish Hamtramck in September 1987.
“Pope John Paul II, he was different,” Lewis explained. “After he was elected pope, he got to running. He got to running with God’s word, and in his lifetime as pope, he visited 129 different countries, and he touched the lives of so many, as well as my own.”
Henley also recounted the impact St. John Paul II had on her own life.
“It was like yesterday I remember him … he was like a whirlwind wherever he went; he was larger than life,” Henley recalled, her voice trembling with emotion. “He was the first pope that I saw boldly and unapologetically evangelize the whole world. And it was something very, very special to see. Even if you weren’t Catholic, you saw it, and it touched you.”
Henley explained she was able to experience that emotion as she researched and wrote the late pope's story for the coloring book.
Lewis's mural depicts St. John Paul II at different times in his life: when he was a young man; when he visited the wailing wall in Jerusalem; praying with the man who tried to assassinate him in prison, and other scenes. The coloring book further distilled the story of the saint.
“We decided it was necessary to write his story, at least some of it, and we started with the children,” Lewis explained. “Frederick Douglas said something very important: He said, ‘It is easier to make a child great than to fix a broken man.’ In this world that we live in with so many people broken people of all races, creeds and colors, Pope John Paul reached out to all.
"This man came from humble beginnings to sit on the seat higher than any other seat in the land. But although he was elevated to the highest seat in the land, the man was still humble," Lewis continued. "Humble enough to hug the elder and the sick. Humble enough to kiss the babies and the children, and humble enough when he visited different countries to get down on his hands and knees and kiss the ground that God created. So it was necessary to write his story because if we fail to write history, then history only becomes a mystery.”
The coloring book is an important way to connect children with a powerful historical figure, said Dr. Jim Holley, pastor emeritus of the historic Little Rock Baptist Church, who attended the unveiling.
"It gives them a chance to get history, a chance to feel it. You can't be something you can’t see,” Dr. Holley said. “This is very important for our young people … I don't care where you are in your life; God always has something special for you.”
Dr. Hobbey, 79, said he has seen world leaders rise up and make a difference. Dr. Holley marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and spent time with Nelson Mandela and Jesse Jackson. Like these leaders, Pope John Paul II made a special impact on the world, Dr. Holley said.
“I have come to revere him based upon his work," Dr. Holley said. "A lot of people do a whole lot of talk about the Gospel, but he walked it and did everything he could to try to bring people together. He really included other people, and I'm always grateful.”