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A baby rested in Gwyneth Thompson-Briggs’s arms as she surveyed the murals that would soon become a part of the baptistery in the Cathedral of St. Joseph.
“He was with me the whole time I was painting these,” she said of her son, who was born three weeks ago and reborn in baptism two weeks later.
She painted the murals throughout her pregnancy.
As she spoke, construction workers were busily preparing the walls of the new baptistery to hold the fruit of her best efforts — the first major pieces of artwork to be installed in the Cathedral.
The 54-year-old edifice is undergoing a yearlong, $15 million renovation, expansion and renewal to upgrade its aging systems while enhancing its beauty, functionality, capacity for hospitality and uniquely Catholic identity.
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight hopes to rededicate the Cathedral in time for Holy Week in 2023.
The murals, featured in the July 22, 2022, edition of The Catholic Missourian, depict members of the clergy pulling fishing nets along the banks of a river, drawing people of many ages, backgrounds and skin tones toward new life in Christ.
Images of Missouri wildlife abound, including native quails that call to mind the food God provided to the Israelites in the desert each evening after delivering them from slavery in Egypt.
The faces and figures in the murals were inspired by actual people, painted in-person by natural northern light in Mrs. Thompson-Briggs’s St. Louis studio.
Two of the models were received into the Church about a year ago and are now preparing for their weddings in the next few months.
The model for the priest in the mural recently entered a cloistered Carmelite monastery, where he hopes to spend the rest of his life.
The hand of the bishop in the mural matches that of Bishop W. Shawn McKnight, whose ring is depicted on the hand.
Mrs. Thompson-Briggs and her husband, Andrew, said Dec. 5 that they’re relieved and grateful to have completed the artworks and delivered them safely to their destination.
When Mrs. Thompson-Briggs found out at the last minute that her assistant could not come and help her oversee the installation, her husband, who manages their family business, agreed to come along.
This involved quickly calling on their circle of family and friends to look out for their other children.
“Actually having so many people agree to help us at the last minute — it’s kind of beautiful,” said Mr. Thompson-Briggs.
The couple prayed for their newborn son to sleep the whole way to Jefferson City.
“And he did sleep the whole way!” Mr. Thompson-Briggs announced.
The husband and father couldn’t help but reflect on the timing of both deliveries.
“It feels providential to be presenting these murals for the baptistery such a short time after our own son’s baptism,” he said.
Mrs. Thompson-Briggs said she and her husband give thanks each day for their patrons, who allow them to support their family while creating sacred artwork.
“We’ve been praying for Bishop McKnight and all the parishioners of the Cathedral Parish and the whole diocese,” she noted.
The first of her murals to be installed was carried up a 40-foot scaffold and affixed to the oculus at the peak of the Cathedral’s crown-shaped roof.
That mural is a 6-foot-wide gold and royal blue sunburst carrying the initials “IHS” — an ancient Greek symbol for the name of Jesus.
Mr. Thompson-Briggs noted that quite unintentionally, the earth tones in that mural match the color of beams and planks of the Cathedral ceiling.
Neither of the parents were thinking of the first name of the Apostle of Central Missouri, the 19th-century Jesuit missionary who baptized the children of many early settlers in parts of what is now the Diocese of Jefferson City.
Fr. Helias’s first name was Ferdinand.
The baby who slept peacefully all the way to the Cathedral of St. Joseph has the same name.
The renovations are entirely funded by generous donors who have united in support of this project.
We also invite everyone to join us in prayer for the safety of the many skilled artisans who are renewing this spiritual home for our diocese.
The Cathedral of St. Joseph belongs to all Catholics in our diocese. All are also strongly encouraged to visit Jefferson City to see the Cathedral when it reopens in 2023.
Visit diojeffcity.org/cathedral-renovation for information.