Mary Margaret Olohan, Daily Signal, November 22, 2021
Paintings depicting George Floyd as Jesus Christ hang in both The Catholic University of America’s campus ministry office and its law school, The Daily Signal has learned.
Catholic University appeared to shrug off responsibility for the painting Monday, telling The Daily Signal that artist Kelly Latimore’s painting “Mama” depicts “the Virgin Mary supporting the body of the dead Christ”—although the artist has indicated repeatedly that his painting depicts both Floyd and Jesus.
“The icon has no place at The Catholic University of America; it is blasphemous and an offense to the Catholic faith, but it is not surprising at all that it was put there,” a junior at Catholic University told The Daily Signal in an email. “It is just another symptom of the liberalization and secularization of our campus.”
“There are many students, faculty, and staff who are concerned about this, but there is nothing we can do,” added the student, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of reprisal from the university administration. “And if we sound the alarm, we will be labeled racists.”
Following publication of this report, the Catholic University chapter of Young Americans for Freedom started a petition to remove the painting from the two locations.
“As students at The Catholic University of America, we believe that it is extremely grave that our university, the official university of the Catholic Church in North America, would cast another in the image of our Lord in this way, particularly for political purposes,” reads the petition, which had garnered over 230 signatures as of 4 p.m. Tuesday.
“No political or social cause ever justifies depicting another in the place of Jesus Christ,” the petition adds.
The Catholic University of America also released a report Friday examining the university’s culture and practices “on matters of diversity and inclusion.”
The university, which prides itself on its status as the pontifical university of the Catholic Church in the United States and the only institution of higher education founded by Catholic bishops in the U.S., held a ceremony in March celebrating the unveiling of Latimore’s “Mama.”
“Following the violent death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, Latimore created this icon in June of that year,” says a description posted with the painting, according to photographs obtained by The Daily Signal.
“The image is evocative of the Pietà—the Mother of Sorrows,” the description continues. “May Mary, the Mirror of Justice hear the cry of all who have known the sorrow of losing a loved one to violence and injustice. Amen.”
“Mama” hangs right outside the Mary, Mirror of Justice Chapel in Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law and emulates the renowned “Pieta,” a statue carved by Italian sculptor Michelangelo Buonarroti in 1499 depicting Jesus Christ’s mother, Mary, holding him in her arms after his crucifixion.
Latimore, who lives and works in St. Louis, Missouri, said in an April interview that his painting was commissioned by his partner “as a way to mourn George Floyd.”
A spokesperson for Latimore told The Daily Signal on Monday that the artist was in his studio and unavailable for comment.
“‘Mama’ is done as a pieta,” said the spokesperson, who refrained from specifically stating that the painting depicts Floyd. “A mother with her son of color who was unjustly murdered by the state.”
In the interview with Robert Lowes for The Christian Century, Latimore went on to say:
There were so many voices that went into that icon. In the black community, there’s dialogue about whether continuously showing dead black bodies is healthy. I worried about that. But several black friends of mine told me this was needed—God being present in the dead black body—as a way to respond so this doesn’t keep happening.
I think‘Mama’ encapsulates my favorite part of iconography, the communal aspect. It makes the artist part of the community, part of the whole.
“The common question that people asked was, ‘Is it George Floyd or Jesus?’ The fact they’re asking that question is part of the problem,” he told the publication. “My answer was yes.”
Catholic University unveiled the painting at the conclusion of Columbus Law School’s Black History Month program, according to a university website post.
A video of the ceremony, once posted on the university’s website, became private after The Daily Signal sought comment from the university. Catholic University did not immediately respond to requests for comment on this point.
During the ceremony, the post said, Law School Dean Stephen Payne recited the poem “Solidarity” by Maya Angelou and reminded those gathered that “diversity is a divine gift we should cherish.” Assistant Dean Shani Butts read “I Dream a World” by poet Langston Hughes.
“Almighty Father, we now ask you to sanctify and bless this icon which we will use in the adoration of the Blessed Mother,” prayed Father Jude DeAngelo, university chaplain and director of Campus Ministry, as he blessed Latimore’s painting with holy water. “May all who look upon this sacred image come to know her protection and maternal care, tracing in their hearts the pattern of holiness.”
On Friday, Catholic University published its Sister Thea Bowman Committee Report, a yearlong examination of the university’s culture and practices “on matters of diversity and inclusion.”
The report compiles recommendations to “address structural issues that may limit or create barriers to inclusion and equality” and includes at least six specific mentions of “equity,” a word increasingly found instead of the word equality in critical race theory concepts or materials.
The report’s recommendations include hiring a chief diversity officer; hiring more diverse leadership for the Administrative Council and University Board of Trustees; creating a Center for Racial Justice and Human Dignity; and focusing on recruiting and retaining “diverse students, faculty, and staff.”
Recommendations in the report also include diversifying the ethnic/racial composition of the board of trustees and student body; advancing “recruitment of faculty from underrepresented communities including position(s) focused on ethnic and multicultural studies and positions that build upon intellectual leadership on topics of race,” and to “establish a university statement that covers diversity, equity, and inclusion, and includes definitions and why this is important to mission performance.”