New diocesan directory cover features famous Fatima painting

By Kenneth J. Souza
Anchor Staff

FALL RIVER, Mass. — In honor of the centennial year of the Fatima apparitions, the soon-to-be-published 2017 edition of the annual Catholic Directory for the Fall River Diocese will prominently feature a stunning painting of Our Lady of Fatima as she first appeared to the three Portuguese shepherd children in 1917.

And the painting also has a local connection in that the original artwork resides right here in the Fall River Diocese — on the wall behind the altar at St. Anthony’s Church in East Falmouth.

“We’re very fortunate — it is just an absolutely stunning painting,” said Msgr. Stephen J. Avila, pastor of St. Anthony’s Parish. “It’s really something of a hidden gem in our diocese.”

Painted in 1946 by distinguished Portuguese artist Henrique Medina (1901-1988) — an internationally-known portrait artist — as an expression of his devotion to his Catholic faith, the painting was given as a gift to the pastor and people of St. Anthony’s Church, which was once a Portuguese national parish.

The original painting of Our Lady of Fatima is approximately five-feet-by-eight-feet. Dominating the picture is the white-robed figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary, standing in the midst of a bluish cloud and floating above the green fields, her hands clasped together in prayer and a Rosary suspended from them.

Medina has portrayed Our Lady with a human face expressive of that purity which can only be born of understanding and self-surrender. Below, the three children — Lucia Santo, and her cousins Saints Jacinta and Francisco Marto — are dressed in the peasant clothing typical of the period, kneeling in adoration, their eyes directed to her haloed presence. Nearby sheep and a pet goat are pasturing in a beautifully peaceful setting. Infinitely tender and moving is the expression of the Blessed Mother and the children, who gaze as if in ecstasy upon the ineffable beauty of the apparition.

Educated in Portugal and Paris, Henrique Medina lived in London for 10 years before arriving in Rome, where he famously painted Mussolini’s portrait. After traveling to São Paulo, Buenos Aires, Madrid and Stockholm, Medina eventually moved to the United States and lived in Hollywood, Calif. for six years, during which time he painted many famous actresses’ portraits.

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It was during this period that he was commissioned to paint the “before” portrait of the titular character in the 1945 MGM thriller “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” based on Oscar Wilde’s novel of the same name. That well-known painting of actor Hurd Hatfield as Dorian Gray was sold in 1970 when MGM held an auction of movie props. It has been held in private collections ever since and was last purchased at a Christie’s auction in New York in 2015 for $149,000.

Like the Dorian Gray portrait, Medina used live models for many of his paintings, and his depiction of the Fatima apparition is no exception. It is believed he used three children of Latin origin — the eldest, he claimed, was of Italian descent — as well as a young actress who posed for the image of the Blessed Mother. While the identity of the actress was never officially revealed, two names continue to be mentioned as likely models: Linda Darnell, a close friend of Medina, and Veronica Lake — both of whom were popular Hollywood actresses at the time.

Darnell is probably best known for films like “My Darling Clementine,” although she is also said to have played the uncredited role of the Blessed Mother in the 1943 film, “The Song of Bernadette” about the earlier apparitions in Lourdes, France. Lake was known for starring in film noir classics like “This Gun for Hire” and “The Blue Dahlia,” and many art historians claim the facial features of Our Lady in Medina’s painting most closely resemble hers.

“As much research as I did, I can’t say definitively who (modeled) for the portrait,” said Msgr. Avila. “He knew Veronica Lake, but Linda Darnell was a friend of his, so I maybe lean towards her. But others have said it was Veronica Lake.”

No one involved in the project, neither the models nor the artist, would accept payment for their work. The painting was unveiled in August of 1946 in East Falmouth, after which it was stored away at the rear of the church until its installation as part of the new reredos and altar.

The altar and painting were later blessed by Bishop James L. Connolly on Aug. 16, 1951, and the painting has remained in the Sanctuary ever since.

Earlier this year, in honor of the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Fatima apparitions, Msgr. Avila announced that the Vatican Office of the Apostolic Penitentiary had approved the painting for veneration.

“It’s approved for veneration as an image to meet the criteria for the indulgence that’s being offered during the Year of Fatima,” Msgr. Avila said. “It’s a matter of praying before the image, offering prayers for the Holy Father, going to Communion and going to Confession. The document specifically talks about praying before a statue of Our Lady of Fatima, but I wanted to make sure that this image was a part of that. I sent them a picture and they approved it.”

Msgr. Avila noted that Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., will join parishioners in celebrating the Fatima centennial during a Mass on August 19 at 4 p.m. The bishop will also bless participants in the Falmouth Road Race that weekend.

“Because the children were arrested on August 13, the apparition did not occur,” he said. “Instead, it took place on August 19 that month by the time they got out. So that’s why it worked well into our Saturday evening Mass to have Bishop da Cunha come celebrate. Every month (since May), we’ve been having a special celebration, and it’s been a beautiful testament to our parish, especially with its Portuguese roots.

“It’s funny, because a lot of people do ask when they walk into St. Anthony’s Church, why is there an image of Our Lady of Fatima (on the altar)? I explain it’s because of the devotion of the Portuguese people. Remember, when this image was painted, many of the people who were in that parish were living at the time the apparition took place. Those people who had come from Portugal brought that devotion with them.” 

Like last year’s directory, which featured a diocesan connection to a newly-canonized saint on the cover (St. Theresa of Calcutta, during her visit to New Bedford), this year’s edition also honors two brand new saints: St. Jacinto and St. Francisco — the younger brother and sister seers who were canonized by Pope Francis in May.

Slated to begin shipping the first week of September, the newly-revised and fully-updated 2017-2018 diocesan directory, published annually by The Anchor, has consistently been the go-to reference guide for all parishes, offices and apostolates within the Fall River Diocese and has continued to offer more information with each subsequent edition.

With several pastoral transfers and assignments that were announced earlier this year, the directory provides all of the latest parish data, including Mass times, staff listings, and contact information. It also provides listings of all diocesan priests, the various Religious Communities working in the diocese, along with a complete listing of active and retired deacons living in the diocese, whether they are assigned to a given parish or not.

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One of the more popular sections — a gathering of parish statistical data including total number of parishioners and weekly Mass attendance — has been revised and expanded over several pages to make it easier to read. And in this computer- and smartphone-savvy era, there are now complete listings of all the individual parish websites along with a breakout listing of email addresses for key diocesan administrative personnel.

As in past years, the directory continues to provide updated telephone and address listings of all diocesan offices, personnel, archives, priests’ residences, councils and apostolates ranging from The Anchor to Catholic Social Services and its many offices, campus ministry, the Development Office, Chancery, Faith Formation, insurance, legal, communications, scouting, shelters, vocations and much more.

As always, the support of dedicated advertisers is pivotal to the directory’s annual success; and the 2017-2018 Catholic Directory is not only an invaluable diocesan resource, but also offers a guide to loyal sponsors who support the diocese’s mission and, in turn, deserve your consideration.

“This edition of our directory is one of the most successful we’ve ever had from an advertising perspective,” said Wayne R. Powers, advertising director for The Anchor and the directory. “I think people know it’s still one of the best vehicles and values to make their products and services known throughout the diocese.”

To order the newly-published 2017-2018 Catholic Directory, send a check for $29 made payable to “Anchor Publishing,” to The Anchor, 887 Highland Avenue, Fall River, Mass. 02720; or use the handy coupon that appears in the ad in this and subsequent editions. You can also place an order online HERE, or by calling 508-675-7151.

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts