Last month a new piece of art was unveiled at Gonzaga Preparatory School’s Chapel of the Three Companions.
Though the chapel was completed in 2007, Gonzaga Prep President Al Falkner said administrators have put a great deal of thought and care into the beautification process. “We’ve added some art here and there, but one of the things we wanted to add was a gate to the meditation garden.”
It turns out the answer to their prayers was close at hand. Metal artist Greg D. Ridgley has two children attending the school. “I called him three months ago,” said Falkner. “He did a lot of research and came up with a great design.”
Swirling scrollwork on the sturdy wrought iron gate supports the symbol of the Society of Jesus – a fitting homage for the Jesuit school. “One of the things I was most excited about was the reference to the old Spanish wrought iron gates,” said art teacher Frankie White. “St. Ignatius was Spanish,” she said, referring to the founder of the Jesuit order. “It’s a touch of the past.”
That reference was intentional. “I like old-European ironwork from the 16th and 17th century,” Ridgley said.
Ridgley traces his emergence as an artist to his time spent serving with the Idaho National Guard during the Iraq war. He re-enlisted at age 34, shortly after the Sept., 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The devastation and carnage of war left an indelible mark on him. When he returned from Iraq, Ridgley sought help for post-traumatic stress disorder at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center. He found additional solace working with metal in his garage workshop.
“I wanted to try my hand at making some ornate pieces,” he said. As he recalled the twisted wreckage of bombed-out buildings and vehicles, he channeled his memories into the steel. “I was taking that twisted mess and making something beautiful. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was actually healing from the war.”
“I do all my work by hand, without heat,” he said. “I just muscle it through.”
As Ridgley pointed out different features on the gate, the afternoon sunlight glinted off an identification bracelet on his wrist. The bracelet bears the name of 1st Sgt. Christopher C. Rafferty. “He was my mentor,” Ridgley said. “He died in Afghanistan.”
The heavy gate swung easily on its hinges and Ridgley ran his hand along the metal. “I build monuments to the brothers I served with in Iraq, some of whom I watched die,” he said.
The gate isn’t the only new piece of art at the chapel. In the narthex, a vibrant icon depicts the chapel’s namesakes – the three companions – St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Francis Xavier and St. Peter Faber. Created in Rome by Dora Bittau, the icon, like the gate, was paid for by donations from the school’s benefactors.
Four large etched glass windows illustrate the four spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius and were designed by Colombian artist Arturo Araujo, a Jesuit.
“There’s a wonderful explosion of art around Gonzaga Prep,” said Falkner.
White said she’s glad the school has been patient and intentional with each selection. “If we would have rushed and got a common gate, we would have missed Greg coming here with his story.”
The ornate gate shut solidly. Ridgley said, “I want to give vets who are suffering in silence hope to get back on their feet and to turn the bad part of the war into something good.”