Alumna rediscovers lost painting
A portrait of Holy Cross founder, Bishop Benedict Joseph Fenwick, S.J., was recently installed on the first floor of O’Kane Hall, just outside the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery. Acquired from the Ursuline Convent in Dedham, Mass., it was painted in 1831 by American artist James Bowman.
The portrait, an oil on canvas, may have been a gift by the bishop to the Ursuline convent in Québec—which, in turn, presented it to the Dedham Ursulines as a gift in 1964. Having fallen into near obscurity, the painting was “re-discovered” through the research of Nancy Lusignan Schultz ’78, chairperson of the English department at Salem (Mass.) State College and author of several books, including Fire & Roses: The Burning of the Charlestown Convent, 1834.
Holy Cross professor of art history, Virginia Raguin, arranged for the loan of the work from the Dedham Ursulines to the College, while undertaking research for the exhibition, Sacred Spaces: Building and Remembering Sites of Worship in the Nineteenth Century, that was held at the Cantor Art Gallery from Jan. 30-April 14, 2002; the painting was purchased by Holy Cross the following year. Since that time, both the portrait and its period frame have been expertly conserved, cleaned and restored at the Worcester Art Museum’s conservation lab.
A descendant of one of the founding families of Maryland, Bishop Fenwick was born in Leonard Town in 1782. He received his degree from Georgetown College and, later, served as president of his alma mater. Entering the Society of Jesus in 1806, he was ordained to the priesthood in June 1808—and, appointed the second bishop of Boston in May 1825. From the beginning of his tenure as bishop, he longed to establish a Catholic college within the boundaries of his all-New England diocese. Assuming possession of Mount St. James Seminary—begun by Rev. James Fitton in 1836—Bishop Fenwick founded Holy Cross in 1843. Named after the cathedral in Boston, the College opened its doors to 12 students by November of that year, almost three years before his death.