By Bonny Van

The Catholic Commentator 

The walls of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Baton Rouge are painted with some of the most striking images of Jesus and Gospel stories of any church in the Diocese of Baton Rouge. It is the work of Dom Gregory De Wit OSB, a Holland Benedictine monk who originally came to the United States to paint murals at St. Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana in 1937.  

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The artwork of Dom Gregory De Wit adorns the walls of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Baton Rouge. A documentary about the artist will be shown at the church Aug. 18.  Photos by Bonny Van | The Catholic Commentator 

 

“Our pastor at the time, Father Dominic Blasco, went up there (the archabbey) to visit and that’s when they were planning to build Sacred Heart,” said Mary Lee Eggart, archivist for Sacred Heart.  

Impressed with the artwork, Father Blasco commissioned Dom De Wit to paint a series of murals in the new church. The work lasted for two years, from 1940-1942. Among the works are shrines honoring Our Lady of Sorrows, a pieta, the appearance of the Sacred Heart, St. John the Baptist, St. Peter, St. Paul, 14 Stations of the Cross and the Victorious Christ, based on a mosaic in Sicily’s Monreale Cathedral.  

“We get a lot of comments about the artwork,” said Eggart.  

Dom De Wit was unable to return to Europe because of the war, so he next went to St. Joseph Abbey in St. Benedict where he painted murals in the refectory and the church.  

On Saturday, Aug. 18 a documentary about the monk will be shown at Sacred Heart at 5:30 p.m. 

The film, directed by David Michael Warren, showcases Dom De Wit’s is strong personality and “bold artistic choices.” Warren said in a statement that Dom De Wit’s art is “massively underappreciated.”  

“He fascinates me,” said Warren. “As I researched his life and artwork, I discovered that (Dom) De Wit was just as quirky as he was theologically deep. My film explores some of his antics and behavior that understandably upset some folks, but it also focuses on his spiritual life.”  

The 55-minute film is narrated by singer/songwriter Kitty Cleveland. It also features interviews with Eggart, historian Edward Begnaud and personal friend Father Raphael Barousse.  

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A pieta by artist Dom Gregory De Wit includes a World War II soldier. Dom De Wit, who lived in monasteries in Belgium and Switzerland, could not return to Europe because of the war.  

 

“Our parishioners have always been proud of the original works of art in our church, and I’m always amazed at the number of visitors who come to our church specifically to see and photograph Dom De Wit’s works,” said Father Miles Walsh, pastor of Sacred Heart. “We are also privileged to have Mary Lee Eggart as our resident artist, archivist and historian and are so grateful to her for collaborating with the producers of this film to make it a reality.” 

“I hope people will take away from the film, and that Dom De Wit communicated through his art, is that Christ is for all people,” said Warren. “His Last Judgment painting in St. Joseph Abbey portrays a diverse group of individuals approaching Christ – an African American in an undershirt, a blonde-haired little girl, a member of the armed forces, a large man in a suit smoking a cigar, a child with a disability and more. More than anything else, I want viewers to see Dom De Wit’s message that Christ makes himself available to all people of all walks of life.” 

The showing of the movie is free; however, the church is asking people to RSVP so they can determine the number of people to expect. Please RSVP to ccoulon@sacredheartbr.org  or call 225-387-6671.