Papal gift fulfills final wish


POSTED: Sunday, October 11, 2009

One of the last works of Honolulu artist Peggy Chun will be presented to Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday in an event that fulfills a last wish of the artist and honors Hawaii's new saint.

The 4-by-8-foot mural depicting Father Damien de Veuster surrounded by a sea of petitioning hands will be accepted by a representative of the pope at his weekly public audience at St. Peter's Square in Rome.

“;It's an honor and exactly what Peggy wanted,”; said her daughter-in-law Kimi Chun. “;Every step of this piece has been an adventure. We're so excited.”;

The mural, a combination of painting and mosaic, was crated up after its last display at the First Friday exhibition in downtown Honolulu.

Chun died in November after years of struggling with Lou Gehrig's disease. Paralyzed for several years, she designed the Damien work that was completed by Polish artist Magdalena Hawaiska.

At Holy Trinity School in Aina Haina, 142 students participated in the creation. They spent 18 months painting 80,000 1-inch squares of paper in bright colors for the mosaic, unveiled in March 2008. At that point, friends were trying to arrange a private medical airlift that would get Chun to Rome.

“;It was a deathbed promise we made to Peggy,”; said Shelly Mecum, who collaborated with Chun on “;The Watercolor Cat.”; Mecum, a teacher at Holy Trinity, wrote the text of the children's book telling Chun's story through the eyes of Chun's pet cat.

Getting the painting into the hands of the pope is a testimony to Mecum's tenacity. In a barrage of telephone calls and referrals, she found a Denver philanthropist, John Saeman, with a connection in the Vatican.

On Sept. 23, Mecum learned of the response. Archbishop James Harvey, prefect of the papal household, wrote to Seaman, “;I have already assured her (Mecum) of preferential seating at the general audience of Oct. 14 so she can present her mosaic to the pope.”;

Mecum also secured financial help that will get her, fellow Holy Trinity teacher Christine Matsukawa and two eighth-graders, Lorrin Baptista and Mark Giron, to Rome for the event.

The presentation will come four days after the canonization ceremony during which the pope declared Damien a saint. “;I'm so relieved,”; said Mecum. “;I will be grateful to God for the rest of my life.”;