Artist paints mural at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Pepperell

St. Joseph's Catholic Church now home of a tribute to seven gifts of the holy spirit

Megan Barnes, left, and Father Jeremy St. Martin while Barnes was working on a mural at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Pepperell.
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PEPPERELL – What started off as a friendly conversation between a painter and her godfather turned into a breathtaking piece of art for a local church.

Walking into St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on Tarbell Street, one might notice the extravagant mural on the floor of the entrance depicting the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.

That mural was designed and painted by Megan Barnes, an artist from Somerville who collaborated on the mural with the Rev. Jeremy St. Martin, pastor at St. Joseph’s. Barnes said that she met Jeremy at a Fourth of July cookout held at the house of her godfather, Deacon Chuck Kelley.

“We were talking about my art for a while and I come to find out that Father Jeremy attended Mass College of Art before becoming a priest,” Barnes said. “I would never stop to think a priest would also be an artist, but now I know everyone is an artist if you have the passion and Father Jeremy had just that. He starts telling me about the church floor and how they ripped up all this smelly rug and have asbestos tiles and basically telling me we need a miracle to fix this mess. He says, ‘Want to paint a mural?’ and I go, ‘Sure,’ and he says, ‘See you Monday,’ and that’s how it all began.”

“We had just taken out this old, weathered, faded rug and thought, ‘Look what we could do,’” St. Martin added. “It just so happened that Megan was an art school student so I asked her to do a mural and next thing you know, we have a mural.”

Barnes is no novice to painting, having studied fine art at Suffolk University and worked on The Mystic Mural Project in her hometown. Overseen by muralist David Fichter and the Somerville Arts Council, the project offers teens a chance to explore the Mystic River Watershed while learning painting techniques. Barnes credited the project in building her experience and being able to make the mural so vibrant.

“The one rule Father Jeremy and I had for the church mural is that we had to have fun,” Barnes said. “Sometimes, different parts of murals can be tedious and annoying to do, but we made sure we never forgot how beautiful it would be and how happy it would make everyone who entered the church. We kept a positive attitude even when we made some big mistakes, we kept going. It was never an option to give up. We never took it too seriously because we knew it was a miracle to be able to work on something this beautiful during a time where everything is so chaotic.”

St. Martin said work started on the mural on July 6 and it now spreads on the floor of St. Joseph’s narthex. Not only is the current mural “90% done,” but Rev. Jeremy also noted that other artists in the Our Lady of Grace Parish have visited the church to expand the mural to the church’s confessional.

“It was mind-blowing to see,” he added. “The area has these beautifully-colored stained-glass windows and seeing the light hit them onto the mural was a true miracle. Some people coming into the church would gasp. It really makes everything work.”

“The thing about art is that it keeps people curious, asking questions, and learning,” Barnes said. “Visual learning inspires me to want to create art that really grabs your attention long enough to ask more about it. It gets people thinking and able to open their mind to a new perspective or appreciation for something. Another thing that inspires me is the change of environment after a mural is painted. Transforming a space from a dull and lifeless area into a place filled with love and happiness automatically creates a positive attitude and a want to be there. Something about seeing lots of colors and creativity in one place is exciting. It makes people happy and excited to go back to that place.”