Saint Monica Church, Pennsylvania

The National Eucharistic Congress is proud to highlight four churches across America supporting sacred artists. Representing the Eastern states, this church commissioned Ann Schmalstieg-Barrett and continues to work closely with her on a new project.

This painting, entitled “St. Monica in Prayer,” was completed in 2016 for St. Monica Church in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Taking part in a new parish grouping under the patronage of St. Augustine, this painting is the seed of inspiration for a newly commissioned altarpiece for the church. The painting references the scene from Book V, Chapter 8 of St. Augustine’s Confessions, in which he recounts his act of deceit when his mother did not want him to leave for Rome:

She [Monica] held onto me with all her strength, attempting either to take me back home with her or to come with me, but I deceived her, pretending that I did not want to take leave of a friend until a favorable wind should arise and enable him to set sail. …I persuaded her to spend the night in a place very near the ship a memorial chapel to Blessed Cyprian.  That same night, I left by stealth; she did not, but remained behind praying and weeping.”

With a small boat seen through the in the window of the painting, it is revealed that St. Monica is not the only person in this scene. Her son is present, abandoning her in the night, as well as the Person to whom her payers are directed.

St. Augustine continues:

“…in Your deep wisdom You acted in her truest interests: You listened to the real nub of her longing and took no heed of what she was asking at this particular moment, for You meant to make me into what she was asking for a long time.”

Attributing the grace of his conversion to the prayers of his mother, the painting reminds us not only of the need to persevere in prayer for others, but also of the need for gratitude towards those who have interceded for our own conversion of heart.

In celebration of the Eucharistic Revival, a new altarpiece for St. Monica’s church has been commissioned. Enlisting the same artist, the work is further inspired by St. Augustine’s Confessions. Sitting by the deathbed of his mother, St. Augustine writes of her final request:

“Lay this body anywhere, and take no trouble over it.  One thing only do I ask of you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be.” (Book IX, Chapter 11)

The unity of the Body of Christ through the Eucharist is the central theme of the triptych. On the left is St. Augustine, offering the sacrifice of the Mass, with the memory of his mother hidden within his heart. On the right is Bl. Carlo Acutis, a young man born 1,561 years after the death St. Augustine, yet taking part in the same sacrifice. Assisting at the altar, he holds the bells to call the attention of the congregation to God’s presence in the Eucharist. Accompanied by angels, we are reminded of their invisible participation in celebration of the Bread of Life. The attention of these panels is directed towards the central image, revealing the historical reality of crucifixion, along with the heavenly reality of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

Following the direction of St. Monica, the altarpiece seeks to help the faithful set aside earthly concerns to focus on the Eternal Life, made present on the altar.

This commission is scheduled for completion in 2026.

Learn more about how local churches commission artists as seen in these sacred artworks at the National Eucharistic Congress: