By Cathy Harasta
The Texas Catholic
In the soothing stillness of the St. Jude Chapel, a young family of four devoted part of a mid-March afternoon to praying in the downtown Dallas sanctuary.
Three other visitors joined the family in gazing above the altar at the soaring “Risen Christ” mosaic—a 30-foot-tall image of the transfigured Christ backed predominantly in dozens of shades of blue, from sea and sky, to cornflower and indigo.
The mosaic, which dates to the chapel’s opening in 1968, recently regained clarity and brilliance thanks to a painstaking cleaning and restoration by Irving-based mosaic artist Julie Richey.
Mosaics are patterns or pictures created by arranging small pieces of materials such as tile, glass or stone.
Richey, a University of Dallas graduate and award-winning artist, will take her talents outside in April, when she will restore the chapel’s compelling sunburst façade mosaic above the Main Street entrance.
Father Jonathan Austin, chaplain of St. Jude, said that the chapel’s community feels blessed on the brink of its 50th anniversary next year.
“The entire chapel has been restored, remodeled from top to bottom, and beautified over the last three years,” Father Austin said. “St. Jude’s attendees are very generous with their time, talents and financial resources.
“Our goal was not simply to restore the chapel to its original glory, but to make it more beautiful.”
Richey, who cleaned and restored the six interior mosaics, also created a mosaic backdrop for the Infant of Prague statue during the month-long project that began in January.
She partnered with Dallas-based Art Restorations, Inc. in a process that included the repair of a horizontal fracture in the “Risen Christ” mosaic, removal of excess paint over-spray from work done previously and replacement of missing Italian tesserae, or tiles.
Richey said that the settling of the foundation might have caused the fracture.
“The ‘Risen Christ’ mosaic has a really, really well-done, beautiful face,” she said. “I could tell that one master made the face and hands. Restoring this is a blessing and educational for a mosaic artist.
“The chapel is a wonderful place, with so many people coming through—business people, the homeless and tourists.”
The chapel, which seats 299, draws more than 4,500 a month for Mass, confession or a quiet interlude in a place open to everyone.
“The image of Jesus is so gentle and welcoming,” Father Austin said of the depiction of the transfigured Christ in the altar mosaic. “We have art students come from universities to look at it.”
Raffo Studios in Italy designed and executed the mosaic, according to Texas Catholic archives.
Richey, who aims to complete the exterior mosaic’s restoration by early May, said that the façade will require a more delicate restoration.
“The façade mosaic is fractured in two places and is losing glass tiles,” she said of the mosaic designed by Gyorgy Kepes and executed and installed by Venetian Art Mosaics in Bronx, New York. “We’ll repair the fractures to give the façade stability and to stop the deterioration. This is a least-intervention repair.”
Olive Salinas, who attends St. Jude daily and is a former cantor for the chapel, said that she has seen the great warmth that people of all faiths experience in the downtown sanctuary.
She said that she admires Father Austin’s dedication to maintaining the chapel’s art, distinctive elements and welcoming atmosphere.
“He has done a fantastic job,” said Salinas, who has attended St. Jude since 1984. “He has been very respectful of the original intent of the chapel. The warmth and the inviting presence that the mosaics give to the chapel are so important.”