In order to accommodate the continued growth of Oxford and parishioners, St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church has recently completed a renovation and expansion.
Passersby may have noticed an extra pop of color on the side of church recently, facing University Ave.
What looks like a massive painting of St. John is actually a 15-foot-tall mosaic, made of thousands of small tiles.
Lee Ann O’Keefe, an artist and member of the parish, originally created the image.
“I am always looking for ways to help at the church, so this was my way of giving back,” she said.
After speaking with Father Joe Tonos, the pastor of the church, she began developing sketches with the main subject of St. John in mind.
“I knew he would be the main subject, but everything else was left up to me,” she said.
Her painting featured an image of a young St. John, seated while writing the Gospel.
“In many paintings, he’s either clean-shaven to show his youth as the ‘beloved apostle’ or as a bearded, grizzled old man who authored the book of Revelation,” Tonos said in a Facebook post. “This John is somewhere in the middle, growing in maturity as the community of St. John’s is a University community where the young grow in maturity. Our parish fosters spiritual maturation.”
Everything in the painting has a meaning. The moon made its way into the image because it was originally mistaken for a halo. O’Keefe gave it new meaning.
“The moon is a gleam of light in the darkness, which to me is symbolic of what a church should be,” she said.
Each evangelist has a symbol and though typically not seen at night, an eagle is the symbol of St. John, which is why O’Keefe felt it needed to be included.
St. John’s garments are red and blue, which Tonos said symbolize the colors of mercy that St. Faustina witnessed in her experience of the Divine Mercy. O’Keefe said they also reflect the colors of the Oxford community, since the official colors of the University of Mississippi are red and blue.
“It occurred to me that the features of John looked curiously like Billy Ray Cyrus,” Tonos said. “Lee Anne told me it was unintentional. However, a staff person said that with the red and blue garments, the eagle flying and Billy Ray, it proves that we Catholics are ‘Muricans too!”
Once O’Keefe’s painting was completed, it was sent to Stagi Mosaici Artistici in Pietrasant, Italy, to be transformed into a mosaic.
“It was amazing to me to see the finished mosaic,” she said. “Sometimes you start projects and things happen and they never come to fruition, but this turned out beautiful. If it was just painted, I don’t think it would have been nearly as impressive.”
O’Keefe’s original painting can be found in the church’s office. The mosaic, made possible thanks to the Knights of Columbus, has been well-received by the parishioners and community members.
“The feedback has been wonderful,” she said. “I hope this mosaic serves as a positive image in our community.”