Rathdrum church mural to be restored

Jo Myers of St. Stanislaus Kostka Chapel is leading an effort to restore the 1901 altar painting at the church in Rathdrum. She talks about the process at the church Monday. (Kathy Plonka)
Jo Myers of St. Stanislaus Kostka Chapel is leading an effort to restore the 1901 altar painting at the church in Rathdrum. She talks about the process at the church Monday. (Kathy Plonka)

From her Sunday morning seat in the choir loft, Jo Myers watched a cherished mural at St. Stanislaus Kostka Catholic Chapel darken with age.

Painted more than a century ago, the mural in the Rathdrum church shows St. Stanislaus kneeling before the Virgin Mary and infant Jesus. But decades of grime had obscured the young saint’s rapt expression and dulled the vibrant reds and blues of Mary’s robe.

The mural is part of a remarkable faith story that led to the church’s opening in 1901, said Myers, a 44-year church member who’s also active in the Rathdrum Historical Society. Concerned that the church was losing a vital piece of its heritage, she spearheaded efforts to get the mural cleaned.

The restoration will kick off next week with the help of a $2,500 grant from the Idaho Heritage Trust, an endowment for preserving historic sites and artifacts, and matching money from church members.

Clara Woods, an art restoration expert from Spokane, will spend several weeks cleaning and touching up the mural. She’ll need scaffolding to access the 42-square-foot oil painting at the front of the church. Woods will remove a protective layer of varnish applied to the mural that has attracted dirt over time, touch up flaking paint and apply new varnish.

“I think about the artist and the work they put into the painting,” Woods said. “I try to bring back what the artist intended.”

After the restoration, the mural’s colors will be brighter and lost details, including facial expressions and the indistinct figure of a second saint, will emerge.

The mural is the work of Brother Joseph Carignano, whose Romantic-style religious paintings are found in Jesuit missions in Eastern Washington, Idaho and western Montana.

But Myers said the mural’s story really begins in western Pennsylvania, where a young coal miner aspired to the priesthood.

Epilepsy kept 16-year-old Thomas Purcell from being accepted into a Catholic seminary. So, he spent five days in prayer to St. Stanislaus Kostka of Poland, who also faced obstacles in his path to a religious vocation. The 17th-century saint’s father wanted him to become an influential politician.

Purcell promised to build and dedicate a church to the saint if he was cured, and his prayer to become a priest was answered.

He traveled west to Spokane, where priests were in demand. After teaching at a school affiliated with Gonzaga University, he was invited by an Idaho bishop to study for the priesthood in Montreal and was ordained. Purcell kept his vow by building the Rathdrum church. The mural was a gift from Gonzaga.

The painting shows the young St. Stanislaus Kostka in Jesuit robes, but his time as a Jesuit was short – he died at 18.

Myers tells the saint’s story to children at the church, to help them appreciate how it inspired another young man to follow his dreams.

“To me, it’s an awesome story,” she said. “He lived so long ago, but he was born with a gift of faith.”

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