Sacred Heart’s twenty-eight unique paintings were created by the Benedictine monk Reverend Gregory deWit.
Born in Holland in 1892, DeWit (left) joined a Belgian monastery at the age of 21. He studied art in Belgium, Germany, and Italy. In 1937, he came to America to decorate the church and chapter room at St. Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana. Father Blasco was impressed with deWit’s work there and invited him to paint a series of murals in the new Sacred Heart Church. From Baton Rouge, deWit went to Saint Joseph Abbey near Covington, Louisiana to paint murals in the refectory and the church. He retired to Europe in 1955, spending his time painting, composing music, and writing poetry until his death in 1978.
The sophisticated, temperamental, and sometimes irreverent priest/artist was far outside the experience of provincial wartime Baton Rouge. His extraordinary paintings in Sacred Heart caused even more controversy than his personality. Inspired by the Sicilian Byzantine mosaics, the signature characteristics of his style include boldly outlined figures, mastery of light and shadow, elaborate drapery, anatomical distortion for the sake of emotional emphasis, and subtle humorous details.
In the narthex (vestibule), deWit painted shrines honoring Our Lady of Sorrows, a pieta, and the appearance of the Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. In the old baptistery to the side of the narthex is a mural of St. John the Baptist. Overlooking the entrance to the nave are the two great apostles, St. Peter and St. Paul. In the nave itself, murals over the confessionals narrate penitential themes: the Repentance of Mary Magdelene and the Samaritan Woman at the Well. Encircling the nave are the 14 Stations of the Cross that describe Christ’s passion and death. Near the roof of the transept crossing are paintings of the four evangelists.
Two formidable warrior-angels guard the sanctuary. In the dome of the apse behind them, deWit’s masterpiece of the Victorious Christ dominates the interior. Based on a mosaic in Sicily’s Monreale Cathedral, the overwhelmingly powerful Christ leaves no doubt that here is a King above all others.