Jesus’ Abiding Presence – Br. Jim Woodrum

Isabella Stewart Gardner Memorial Mass
(given at the Gardner Museum)

Which painting stands out to you the most in this incredible museum? In a group like ours, everyone likely has their own favorite painting, with some choices overlapping. Among the many exceptional artworks here, one that I particularly admire is Sandro Botticelli’s “The Virgin and Child with an Angel.” Painted sometime between 1470 and 1474, it was acquired by Mrs. Gardner in 1899. I’ve been reading Natalie Dykstra’s new biography, “Chasing Beauty,” where I discovered that this painting was also one of Mrs. Gardner’s favorites.[i] Interestingly, I think it bears a resemblance to a famous photo of Belle (as Mrs. Gardner was known familiarly) and her beloved son Jackie, taken in 1864.[ii] This painting, like that photograph is iconic.

When I say that, I am not suggesting that the painting is admired for its great influence or significance in a specific sphere, perhaps like Mrs. Gardner—herself to this day, an icon. Instead, I use the term “iconic” in the sense that when we gaze at this painting, it conveys something much deeper than merely a depiction of a woman, child, and angel with wheat and grapes. Like a religious icon, every detail in the painting prayerfully hints at a richer narrative—one that may require time and contemplation to fully appreciate. Similarly, in the gospels, Jesus often taught his disciples using iconic stories called parables such as the parable of the Prodigal Son and the parable of the Good Samaritan. Read More

Generosity is a Symptom of Courage – Br. James Koester

Occasion: Birthday Celebration of Isabella Stewart Gardner
Place: Chapel at the end of the Long Gallery, Gardner Museum

There are a number of words that we might use to describe Isabella Stewart Gardner, whose birthday we are celebrating today. We might use the word audacious. We could describe her as scandalous or provocative. We might call her stubborn. We could call her eccentric. We could certainly call her rich. I am sure that she was called these, and many others besides. But there is one word which we might not normally associate with her. That word is courageous.

I saw that word downstairs in the gallery where the works of one of the Museum’s artists in residence are exhibited several years ago. The works, a series of miniatures, included an excerpt from a letter written to Mrs. Gardner by her friend Matthew Stewart Prichard[1] an art historian and one time assistant curator of the neighbouring MFA. In the letter to Mrs. Gardner, Prichard he wrote: Be generous, generosity is a symptom of courage. If you fear; you are selfish.

We are all here today, because of Mrs. Gardner’s courage. She had the courage to be generous and by her generosity both the Monastery in Cambridge and the Museum here on the Fenway continue to thrive as important cultural and religious centres in the Boston area. Without her generosity neither Museum nor Monastery would exist. Read More