A Chicago Hero

Joe Malham, an artist-in-residence and iconographer at St. Gregory the Great Church in Chicago, was recently featured in Chicago Catholic for his beautiful art series entitled “Chicago Heroes.” The series focused on holy Catholics who ministered in the Archdiocese of Chicago and accomplished great things in their lifetimes. It featured prominent Chicago Catholics such as Augustus Tolton and Dorothy Day. This particular series was a subset of a larger project that he developed. “I was working on a series called ‘Heroic Catholics of the 20th Century,’ which featured men, women, people of color, lay people, and religious of all nations. I wanted to do a new interpretation and not iconographic. It was more representational and raw, capturing them as they were. While I was working on these, Father Bob Cook from St. Gregory the Great, where my studio is located, suggested that I do a series of panels on Heroic Catholics of Chicago," Joe said.

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Joe Malham's panel of Venerable Mary Theresa Dudzik was featured in his series, 'Heroic Catholics of Chicago.'

Joe began to research his subjects to help him decide whom to feature. One of the Chicago heroes Joe selected was Venerable Mary Theresa Dudzik, foundress of the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago. “I became familiar with Mother Mary Theresa from my association with Father Augustin “Gus” Milon, who helped run the Port, a soup kitchen. Sister M. Claudiana Jachimowicz, a Franciscan Sisters of Chicago, also volunteered there and helped Father. Father Gus had a great devotion to Mother Mary Theresa Dudzik, and that’s where I first discovered her and the great work that she did.”


The Franciscan Sisters of Chicago saw the Chicago Catholic article that featured Joe’s series and contacted him to meet with him and also to purchase a copy of his panel of Venerable Mary Theresa. This canvas reproduction was unveiled to the rest of the Sisters during this year’s May Crowning ceremony and now hangs in the infirmary at Our Lady of Victory Convent. The Sisters then commissioned him to do an original iconographic interpretation of Mother Mary Theresa. 

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The Sisters commissioned Joe Malham to create this iconographic interpretation of Venerable Mary Theresa.

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The back of the frame reads "From the Hand of Joseph."

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Joe has held a long interest in iconography and sacred art. He attributes this interest through his Greek and Assyrian heritage, two cultures rich with art history and tradition. This led him to study art in Rome and then later receive a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Loyola University. He developed his iconographic style by using the traditional methods of Byzantine and Russian artists. His artwork has been acquired and displayed by churches and congregations around the United States. 


After a couple months, Joe finally presented the finished piece to the leadership of the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago in May. During the presentation, Joe discussed his creative process and the choices he made while creating the artwork. “I wanted to introduce certain elements into the icon that retained the Byzantine language of iconography. There is an ethereal quality to Mother Mary Theresa as she is slightly out of proportion. The object is not to show the way she was human, but to illustrate her slightly elongated, which shows she’s been transformed into her divine state. She is then situated against a gold background, symbolizing God’s own created light. The two pillars to left and right of her represent the Scripture and tradition of the Church. This is where we get the stories of the lives of the Saints, so we can venerate them and raise them to the altar as models of humility,” Joe told the Sisters. There is great detail in Venerable Mary’s Theresa’s habit, face and hands as Joe spent lots of time developing her face and hands. “The detail in her habit projects some movement. I also worked very hard on her hands. The left hand is pointed to Christ – all icons are Christo-centric and always point to Christ. The right hand is blessing and has the three fingers joined together symbolizing the Trinity and the two fingers are raised to symbolize peace, and also the humanity and divinity of Christ.”   


Above Mother Mary Theresa are the logos of the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago and Franciscan Ministries which illustrate her legacy. They sit on a marble background, which symbolizes the strength of the Church. Because Mother Mary Theresa is still Venerable and not Blessed yet, she doesn’t have a halo. Thus Joe painted a brighter color around her head to give her a bit of an aura as she stands in the doorway between the pillars. “This brings the viewer into it and represents the beginnings of eternity,” Joe said. Lastly the iconography panel is framed with wood handmade by Russian woodworkers from upstate New York with the words “Made by the hands of Joseph” written on the back. 


The Sisters thanked Joe and presented him with a reliquary, which contained a small piece of her habit. Joe continues working on his Catholic Heroes series with more panels coming in the future. He is also now a devotee to Mother Mary Theresa’s Cause. “I’m helping to spread the word about her Cause and her mission.”

Joe Malham met with the Sisters to present his iconograph of Venerable Mary Theresa Dudzik.

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Sr. M. Bernadette Bajuscik presents Joe with a reliquary, which contained a small piece of Venerable Mary Theresa Dudzik's habit.

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Artist Joe Malham presented the Sisters with his iconography of Venerable Mary Theresa Dudzik. (From left to right) Joe Malham, Sr. M. Francis Clare Radke, Sr. Jeanne Marie Toriskie, Sr. M. Bernadette Bajuscik, and  Sr. M. Helene Galuszka.