Have you ever seen this mural as you’re walking through the tunnels? We all walk by this piece of art nearly everyday but we rarely stop to think about who made it or what it means. This mural, entitled “Ruth” actually has a beautiful story behind it.
In 1942, when Nazareth College was just eighteen years old, an artist by the name of John C. Menihan painted this mural on our tunnel walls. Here he is pictured before the wall with his wife. Menihan was an American artist from Rochester, known for his watercolors and lithographs of natural landscapes. His work has been featured in collections at the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, Rochester’s Memorial Art Gallery and the British Museum in London.
Depicted in the mural is Ruth, a biblical figure characterized by her loyalty and faithfulness. After the death of her husband and in-laws, she remained loyal to her mother-in-law, Naomi, returning with her to Bethlehem and adopting her God. Naomi had a relative, Boaz, and everyday, Ruth gleaned, or gathered grain, in his fields. Eventually, Naomi gave Ruth her blessing to marry Boaz and together they had a son, Obed. In the mural, we can see Ruth gleaning in the fields of Boaz, with a woman, presumably Naomi, in the background. Perhaps this mural is meant to remind us of how remaining true to others and working hard will have its rewards, as Ruth did when she was able to remarry after her many days in the fields. It’s also fitting that Ruth used to “glean” in the fields, given that the name of Nazareth’s previous print news publication was The Gleaner.
In 1942, Menihan temporarily gave up pursuing art to work for his family business, which produced parachutes during the second world war. He did return to Nazareth, however, after the war in 1957 to create an even larger and more visible work of art, the “St. Jerome” glass window in the Lorette Wilmot Library. In all of his public artwork on display throughout Rochester, he was known to use religious iconography and liturgy, a perfect fit for an all girls, Catholic liberal arts college in Rochester, New York.
Saint Jerome was a priest from Rome who translated the Old Testament into Latin and was secretary to Pope Saint Damasus. What is especially interesting about Saint Jerome, given that Menihan chose to portray him in Nazareth’s library, is the way he interacted with women. In his teachings, he often focused on the lives of women and how women who were devoted to Jesus Christ would be saved. He also worked closely with women, notably Saint Paula and her daughter Saint Eustochium, who helped him in his work.
We are lucky to have both of these pieces here at Nazareth College. Each captures not only biblical stories that related to Nazareth’s mission, but they also showcase the work of a local artist of the time, one who contributed greatly to our school.
Next time you happen to be walking through the tunnels, take a closer look at the art we have. Each holds a special story that is unique to our school, and knowing our history only serves to make us more aware of what makes Nazareth College so amazing.
Photo Credit: New York Heritage Digital Collection
Feature Image Credit: Nazareth College