Stairway to heaven

Class gift leaves lasting legacy at Overland Park school

by Jessica Langdon

OVERLAND PARK — As music teacher at Holy Spirit School here, Connie Maltby knows Father Richard Storey, the parish’s pastor, watches over the school.

No pressure.

This school year, though, he has company.

“Every time I’m going across my room, the pope is watching me,” said Maltby. “Every time I glance out my door, the pope is watching me.”

That’s right. The larger-than-life face of Pope Francis is angled in such a way that he appears to be peering into the doorway of her downstairs music room.

The pope’s image is just one part of a huge, colorfully painted masterpiece decorating the stairwell that students and teachers walk through every day.

The eighth-grade class of 2013 gave the mural to the school as its gift.

And every time Maltby sees it, she smiles.

She heard lots of gasps of surprise from the students the first week of school, when they saw it for the first time.

The painting depicts kids dressed in Holy Spirit uniforms singing and playing musical instruments in the bottom left-hand corner, as Pope Francis smiles down on them.

At the top of the stairs, the images of God the Father and St. Michael the Archangel — as depicted in the Sistine Chapel — are painted.

The scene also includes the Earth, stars, an American flag and many bright, playful touches.

“I think it adds a lot of joy — and just smiles,” said Ann Marie Growney, a 2013 Holy Spirit graduate who is now a freshman at St. James Academy in Lenexa.

She saw it for the first time in August and loved the way it came together. She planned to show it to her friends and family.

“It shows that we loved our school and that we’re proud of our faith,” she said.

Artist in the parish

The eighth-graders didn’t have to look far to commission this project.

Jay Martin, a Holy Spirit parishioner, has spent his career with the U.S. Air Force — and painted seven murals on concrete while serving in Iraq.

He has painted a few murals at home — a tropical waterfall in the bedroom of  his daughter Lauren, a 2009 Holy Spirit graduate and also an artist; and music legends, such as Bob Marley and Paul McCartney, for his son Thomas, a 2010 graduate.

Martin first measured the wall at Holy Spirit to get the scale right and then crafted a cartoon-style draft using PowerPoint.

After reviewing it, the eighth-graders asked him to incorporate the new pope and the American flag.

“It was inspired,” said Martin of the idea.

With a yardstick in hand, he marked the previously plain wall to note where everything — from the Earth to the tip of God’s finger — would go.

The picture of Pope Francis actually started in a different spot, but Martin soon had to move it to accommodate the handrail for the staircase.

He says it was a happy mistake that Pope Francis is now the first thing people see when they turn the corner into the hallway.

But Michele Watson, the school’s principal, believes that it was the Holy Spirit at work.

Martin deliberately painted the new pope smiling.

“I really, personally, am inspired by him because he’s very humble. And I think that he’s going to attract a lot of people to the church — back into the church — because he comes across as Everyman,” said Martin. “And so I felt very comfortable painting him, I guess for those same reasons.”

Lauren, now a freshman at Kansas State University in Manhattan, also added a few touches.

“I decided that I was going to give the God piece to her, and I had roughed it in with some spray paint,” explained Martin. “And I said, ‘Lauren, your task is to make that blob up there look like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.’

“And I knew it was in good hands.”

Open arms

Lauren and Jay Martin knew they were in good hands at Holy Spirit the moment they walked through its doors a decade ago when Martin was first assigned to Fort Leavenworth.

They toured it the day of eighth-grade graduation and were welcomed with open arms.

What Martin had originally planned as a three-year Kansas stay has stretched into 10.

“We have known that we were part of something very special,” he said.

So he was happy to give back to the parish through his art.

Father Storey believes this painting from the class of 2013 reflects what Holy Spirit is, and he sees it as an avenue to bring people closer to their faith.

He likes the progression of the picture as people travel up the steps.

The image of the kids — designed so every student can relate to someone in the painting — is in the corner.

Then there’s a feeling of “being led by the spiritual leader right up to the Creator,” he said. “When you look at it, you eventually go up, and it’s all about God.”

The mural includes a few musical notes — the first line of “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High,” a favorite hymn at the school.

Watson hopes the students’ understanding of the art will grow with them over the years.

“When they’re younger, they’re going to take in the colorfulness and the beauty,” she said. “But I think as they get older, I want them to really see the progression and make sure they realize that God the Father is the beginning of all that we do.”


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