By Fr Denis Stanley
Our College owns a great debt to Fr. Des Moloney for his many years of dedicated service to Corpus Christi College. Where those years all “sweetness and light”? No, I do not suppose they were. Where they years on which he can look back with some Godly pride, that his prayer, hard work and listening and directing, have by God’s grace borne fruit in the lives of the students he helped to form and direct? Indeed, I am also sure of that.
While Fr. Des was on the staff of the seminary, as a teacher, he did not cease being also a learner, completing a masters degree through Heythrop College, London, in Christian Spirituality. He concluded his degree by writing a dissertation on Blessed Jan Van Ruusbroec, who lived between 1293-1381 in what we now call Belgium. Ordained as a diocesan priest he concluded his days in a hermitage. During his life he prayed and passed on the fruit of his prayer in writing. Unfolding for others – in his day and for ourselves in later generations – the ways of God in prayer and contemplation.
Pondering our debt to Fr. Des as he left us last year, I thought what kind of gift might we share with him as a token of our thanks. So, in dialogue with him we decided to commission an Australian iconographer, Michael Galovic, to write – as they say – an icon of Blessed Jan. Michael’s work is found in many churches throughout Australia.
The commission was not simple – Blessed Jan Van Ruusbroec is a western saint, but the icon is an eastern art. So, something new had to be created. Michael was put to the test, wrestling, as he explained, with the angels, to prepare an image the like of which no one had prepared before. So, there was some preparation and thought that went into this icon – and it has taken a long time – but that is ok in the tradition of icons.
In a recent article in the Sydney, “Catholic Weekly”, Michael explains, “in icons you have impossible things happening. They – the iconographers – want to depict another world” a world transformed by grace. “Icons are the last barrier,” Michael describes them, “between you and the life of the word to come.”
There is a certain stillness about icons – drawing us into stillness and contemplation before the mysteries of god and his saints. Icons are for prayer and contemplation – something that Fr Des has practiced, studied and helped others understand for many years.
The figure of Jan is modelled/based on a figure of St John the Evangelist as an old man on the island of Patmos, writing the revelation. Michaels says that he is fully aware that his rendition indicates a certain fear (of what is coming from above) but it is actually, not meant to be, but rather it is the stylised way that icons depict an encounter with God.
The cave behind Jan is a traditional icon feature. The blackness of the cave stands for the primaeval chaos and confusion before the light of revelation. It is also reminiscent of Christ's death and descent into hell after his resurrection.
The background was gilded with 23 karats gold leaf, while the "frame" was done in the white gold leaf being half gold, half silver. As in a good tradition of icons, the work could not be signed in the front, but at the back. There we find the relevant details of who painted it (wrote it), and when.
The work was done in the egg-tempera and varnished with clear satin varnish.
I am sure Fr. Des will see more in the icon than we can see, knowing the life of Blessed Jan better than we do.
I trust that he will spend many years pondering it and explaining its uniqueness to others. “What’s that?” Many people will ask – I’m sure!
So near as we are to great feast of All Saints, the great company of men and women who have gone before us, friends of God and our brothers and sisters, I have the great pleasure, on behalf of the college in presenting the icon of Blessed Jan Van Ruusbroec to Fr. Des.
Fr Denis Stanley, pictured below on the left, is Rector of Corpus Christi College. This is the speech he gave to former Vice-Rector of Corpus Christi College, Fr Des Moloney, pictured right, during a special presentation of a specially commissioned icon at dinner on Monday, October 29.
Pictures by Allan Aclan, second-year seminarian of the Melbourne Archdiocese.