A Magnificat High School mural celebrates African American and African saints and Catholic leaders and brings awareness to the continued racism faced by African Americans. The inspirational mural, created in 2019 by alumnae Chloe Becker '20 as part of her Agape Experiment, is prominently displayed on the first floor of the high school, across from the Lourdes Chapel. The mural depicts African American and African Catholic saints and church leaders. Since no photographs exist of the saints, Becker chose models from Cleveland’s St. Adalbert’s Parish
to represent the saints and leaders. The mural is a testament to Magnificat’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion and issues of social and racial justice.
The mural depicts three saints—St. Augustine, St. Monica, and St. Benedict the African—and two leaders in the Church, who both have causes for canonization—Sr. Thea Bowman and Fr. Augustus Tolton. In the mural, Sr. Thea Bowman is represented by Sandra Gay-Chapman; Fr. Augustus Tolton by James Napier; St. Augustine by Michael Sitts; St. Monica by Phillis Fuller Clipps; and St. Benedict the African by Jordan Sanders.
A school blessing and prayer service was held in August 2019 to bless the mural. The student-led prayer service was attended by members of the St. Adalbert Parish who served as models for the mural and included prayer, songs, and the life stories of church leaders. At the service, the school community was invited to reflect on the historical and modern-day implications of racism and how Magnificat is called to work toward greater equity and inclusion within the school and the world.
The mural was created by Chloe Becker as part of her Agape Experience project. In 11th grade theology class, every student is required to conduct an Agape Experiment, a semester-long experiment on a social justice issue. Students must research a project and propose ways that change can be made in the world related to their topic. After a gap year following her graduation from Magnificat High School, Becker will enter Harvard University in the fall of 2021.
Becker chose to focus on racism for her Agape Experience and sought to respond to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops pastoral letter, Open Wide Our Hearts, by striving to strengthen the Catholic Church’s voice against racism. The pastoral letter, released in November 2018, addressed the discriminated faced by people of color in this country and called on Catholics to play a larger role in the fight to end racial discrimination.
Becker said she was disturbed by the fact that she could not name a single African American or African Catholic saint or leader. Through her project and mural, she sought to celebrate and increase awareness about African American and African leaders and saints in the Catholic Church as well as bring attention to the racism that African Americans continue to face in society.
“I’ve always been fascinated with the communal claiming of murals,” Becker said. “Artwork can be hung up and taken down, but a mural is sewn into the framework of a building or city.”
In the mural, the saints are holding a Sacred Heart—which refers to the U.S. Catholic Bishops' pastoral letter, Open Wide Our Hearts. The letter maintains that Catholics are called to love with the heart of Christ and this love involves working to end racism. The Sacred Heart created by Becker also symbolizes light and focuses on the idea that Christ’s light shines on the lives of the saints in the mural—most of whom have been kept hidden and not talked about or celebrated within the Catholic Church.
The saints in the mural appear in present-day clothing and as present-day individuals to emphasize the call that all Catholics have to sainthood. God calls all Catholics to the holiness of the saints, and holiness is not too great of a goal for present day people to achieve, Becker said.
The mural also brings attention to systematic racism and highlights five areas of continued inequities for people of color. Becker identified a constellation that connects to each area through the archetypal Greek and Roman gods and goddesses. Constellations included on the mural include Cancer (protected by Hermes, god of wealth), which highlights the need to close the racial wealth gap; Capricornus (protected by Hestia, goddess of home), which relates to the need to end housing discrimination; Sagittarius (of Chiron, teacher of heroes), which highlights the need to work toward equal educational opportunities; Crater (of the cup of Apollo, god of medicine), which calls for an end to health care inequities; and Virgo (of Astraia, goddess of justice); which highlights the need for a more just criminal justice system.
The mural and artist have gained national and international attention, and have been the subject of a variety of news stories and an article in America Magazine: The Jesuit Review of Faith and Culture. Becker also has been a guest speaker for organizations and schools across the country and has been commissioned to create art for a variety of religious organizations.