You’re greeted by a beautiful painting of the Visitation when you enter the front entrance parlor of the Monastery Immaculate Conception, home of the Benedictine Sisters of Ferdinand, Indiana. The brilliant colors chosen by the artist, Johann Schmitt, express the radiance of this encounter of Mary and her cousin Elizabeth. The vivid, jewel-like blue and rose of their clothing give me a sense of the new life, beauty, and strength of these two women, one quite young, one quite old. And each with her own surprise pregnancy.
This painting actually was the reason for one of my first visits to the Dome, as the monastery is familiarly known. Back in the summer of 2013, I was on a mission of sorts doing some legwork for a friend who was researching 19th-century German-American art. Little did I know then how the theme of Visitation would resonate in my life a year later when we began dreaming of this conference, to be held right there at the monastery.
The Visitation came to the forefront of our conversation as we chose a conference logo. At one point in our brainstorming process, we were stuck. We knew we had not yet found a vision for our logo, or even articulated the spirit it should convey. Then, Janet reached into her bag, pulled out a statue, and as she placed it on the table, she said, “When I think of the conference, I think of this.” The statue was the Visitation.
The energy in the room was palpable. At last, our thoughts were flowing. In the joy and wonder of the Visitation, we saw the spirit of encounter, rejoicing in God’s presence in others…and ourselves. This joy of encounter, of which Pope Francis often speaks, is the joy that moved us to dream of the conference in the first place and that continues to renew and direct us. This was the spirit we wanted our logo to convey.
The logo artist went to work. The day the final specs arrived, in full color and with various layout options, several of us gathered around a computer, scrolling through the pages. Each page brought a new shout of joy and laughter. We had our logo at last.
The logo continues to form and shape our imagination for the conference. More than a year later, it still brings a smile to my face. I love hearing the reactions of others when they see it on our website or in an ad. And sometimes I find myself looking at it as if seeing it for the first time all over again. In those moments, my spirit is renewed.
Our conference planning feels like a perpetual Feast of the Visitation. This celebration cannot be contained by a date on the calendar. (Its assigned date is May 31.) Rather, it has become a way of life. The Visitation takes hold in every new email contact or chance conversation about the conference or with each new friend and collaborator who joins us.
Recently, a friend and I were talking about the Visitation. He pointed out that the Visitation is the only one of the Joyful Mysteries that comes with no shadow, no confusion, no hint of the struggles to come. The Visitation is a mystery that is pure joy, all joy. What a mystery and delight!
I hope you’ll sense joyful encounter when you see our logo ... and throughout the conference weekend. When you visit the Dome, be sure to stop in to see the Schmitt painting. You can’t miss it … it’s straight ahead, ready to greet you as you enter the front entrance parlor.
And in the meantime, you can make a virtual visit to the monastery. Just click on this link: http://www.thedome.org/visit-us/virtual-tour/monastery-tour/.