Local painter, author turns painful, tragic memory into 'something beautiful' for God

Kathleen McInerney, an artist and parishioner at Holy Name Parish in Birmingham, stands with her mother, Carol Chisholm, in her Birmingham home. McInerney's artwork can be found in schools, parishes and galleries across Metro Detroit, a credit she gives to her mother, from whom she learned the craft. (Photos by Jim Dudley | Special to Detroit Catholic)

Kathleen Chisholm McInerney's spiritual artwork focuses on finding the good; book honors memory of teenager killed by impaired driver

BIRMINGHAM — An image of St. Faustina’s vision of the Divine Mercy, with Jesus’ right hand raised in blessing, is encased in glass on the front door of Kathleen Chisholm McInerney’s beautiful home in Poppleton Park near downtown Birmingham. It’s a cold January afternoon, and Kathleen welcomes a reporter into her kitchen where her mother, Carol Chisholm, is seated and finishing a small, healthy lunch.

“Come, follow me,” Kathleen sings with a gentle laugh.

She leads the way through her painting studio just off the kitchen, where a colorful work in progress rests on an easel, and into an adjacent room that Kathleen referred to as her "chapel" or sacred space. She lights three small candles that represent the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit while pointing out two relics, one of St. Therese of the Little Flower, the other of St. Catherine of Laboure, before sitting down to tell her story.

“I grew up in Birmingham, born and raised. I went to St. Regis, where I was baptized and received my first Communion," McInerney said. "Then I went to Marian High School and the University of Michigan, where I got my (bachelor of fine arts) in graphic design."

McInerney also studied at Oxford University for a summer, the first time she had ever been away from home.

"I was really homesick and feeling lost. But we grew up with St. Therese of the Little Flower as our family saint, and my mom is a lay order Carmelite. I wandered into this little store in Oxford and there was this most beautiful medal of St. Therese," she said. "I bought it, wore it, kept it with me, and was fine. Isn’t that something? I felt like it was a needle in the haystack left for me on my journey of small things, great love.”

McInerney beams at the memory and at her mother sitting across from her.

Three candles representing the Father, Son and Holy Spirit stand alight in Kathleen McInerney's home "chapel," where she goes to pray and find inspiration for her work.
Three candles representing the Father, Son and Holy Spirit stand alight in Kathleen McInerney's home "chapel," where she goes to pray and find inspiration for her work.

“Art has always been my passion. My mom taught me how to paint,” she said. “My mom’s paintings look like heaven. She has a beautiful, very ethereal way of painting.”

“I was just having fun painting,” Chisholm said, dismissing the compliment. “When you have fun painting, it’s a different story.”

“I knew I wanted to paint when I was young from watching my mom, and it was always just something I loved to do,” McInerney said. “I felt it was a gift. I love Monet and Van Gogh. I just love anything bright, colorful and textural. I load my brush up and love the push and pull of color.”

McInerney’s Catholic faith has always inspired her art. Over the years, the mother of three boys has donated her paintings to many local schools, churches and charities, including Angels' Place, Rose Hill, Allies Angels, Cranbrook House & Gardens, Christ Child House and the Detroit Institute of Arts. Her painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe for a Ladies of Charity auction was used for the invitation, and then auctioned off at the event. One of the artworks Kathleen is most proud of, the painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe, has been used by the Archdiocese of Detroit and for the pro-life movement. The painting is now at Cristo Rey High School in Detroit.

“I always want to honor God through my art," she said. "When I accept a commission to do a painting, I begin by praying for that person. I become spiritually involved in the work. When I paint, I feel like heaven opens up and I’m at one with God. A peace, joy and an incredible calm comes over me, and I lose track of time.”

In 2012, McInerney’s children’s book, Timothy’s Glove, which she wrote as well as illustrated, was published by Ferne Press in Northville. She goes into the other room and returns with a hardcover copy and rests it on her lap. The book is dedicated to Timothy John MacLean.

A painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe, left, which McInerney commissioned, currently resides at Cristo Rey High School in Detroit. McInerney loves incorporating spiritual and faith-oriented themes into her artwork, a craft she picked up from her mother.
A painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe, left, which McInerney commissioned, currently resides at Cristo Rey High School in Detroit. McInerney loves incorporating spiritual and faith-oriented themes into her artwork, a craft she picked up from her mother.

“Tim was one of the nicest human beings I’ve ever met in my life,” Chisholm said.

“Yes,” McInerney agreed. “Tim was a very spiritual, faithful young man. I dated him all through high school when he was at Brother Rice and I was at Marian. He was captain of the football and baseball teams. He was a twin and very close with his brother, Tom. In 1983, I was a freshman at Michigan, and Tom brought him up to Ann Arbor to see me. He dropped Tim off in front of my dorm, where he was tragically hit by another 19-year-old who was under the influence.”

The memory brought tears to McInerney, which she quietly and elegantly wiped from the corner of her eyes.

“Tim passed away a couple days later from a closed head injury,” McInerney said. “He was a very good man. He was always aware of people around him who were vulnerable. Tim had that St. Michael spirit of protecting people who needed it, that 'I got you covered' thing, but he was also very under the radar."

Knowing Tim had passed away right in front of her dorm, McInerney wondered how to take such a tragic situation "and not be swallowed up by it, since I walked past that spot every day.”

Taking a moment to compose herself, McInerney took a deep breath.

“Two weeks after it happened, I was back at school. My mom was the president of the Carmelite Order in Ann Arbor at the time, and she brought a priest to see me. His name was Fr. Healy, and the three of us were holding hands at the spot where Tim was hit," McInerney said. "Fr. Healy said, ‘Kathleen, this is a window to heaven. This is where Tim first saw the face of God. I want you to know this spot is holy and sacred now. I don’t want you to ever think of this place other than a doorway to God.’

"In an instant, Fr. Healy transformed that very spot for me," McInerney said, smiling through her tears. "It became almost a portal to heaven, you know? I thought, this is where Tim first saw Christ, and I’m right here, too. It was a pretty powerful moment.”

McInerney said her manuscript of "Timothy's Glove," written when she was a freshman in college, was lost until her husband found it in a filing cabinet and urged her to publish it. The story honors Timothy John MacLean, McInerney's teenage boyfriend who was killed by a driver under the influence while he was being dropped off outside her dorm room.
McInerney said her manuscript of "Timothy's Glove," written when she was a freshman in college, was lost until her husband found it in a filing cabinet and urged her to publish it. The story honors Timothy John MacLean, McInerney's teenage boyfriend who was killed by a driver under the influence while he was being dropped off outside her dorm room.

That freshman year, she had to write a children’s story for one of her English classes, and ended up writing about a little boy who goes to heaven to play baseball for the saints against the angels.

It wasn't until 27 years later when Jack, McInerney's husband, “who’s such an amazing gift with his faithful, warrior spirit, found my little manuscript of Timothy’s Glove when I thought it was lost forever," McInerney said.

"Jack found it in a file cabinet we were going to throw out. He came upstairs and said, ‘Look what I found. You need to finish this.’ I was floored and thought I should start praying about it," McInerney said.

The discovery "re-opened a grief from the loss of Tim that I had put away," McInerney said. "But God is so amazing when He asks you to do something; He gives you everything you need to do it. And he needed me to finish the book because he needed me to take that very, very dark time and turn it into something beautiful all these years later — to open up a little window to heaven and possibly bless and heal other people who have lost loved ones. I sent the manuscript off after a summer of working on it, and a couple months later the publisher called and said they wanted to publish it. It was all God — and Jack.”

“It was a heavy thing to go through at such a young age,” Chisholm said.

“But that’s where faith comes in, and thank God you gave it to me, mom,” McInerney said. “Thank God you modeled a strong faith for me.”

For her commissioned spiritual art, McInerney has a wide variety of clients, mostly from word of mouth from people she knows through her Catholic community at Holy Name Parish in Birmingham, as well as Marian and Brother Rice.

“Even if it’s not a spiritual work, I always put the sacred back in," McInerney said. "I enjoy any time I can be, as St. Therese of the Little Flower says, about being on a little brush or pen in the hand of God. I want my faith to be in action, and I can do that through my art.”



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