WHEELING, W.Va. – The 7-foot-high painting of St. Cecilia, patroness of music, which hung in the Music Hall at Mount de Chantal Visitation Academy for decades, is back in Wheeling as a recent donation to the Mount de Chantal Conservatory of Music at Wheeling Jesuit University.
The painting, along with a plaster bust of composer Franz Liszt, were donated to the university by 2004 Mount de Chantal graduate and Washington native Michele Dufalla, who had purchased the items at an auction.
“We are so grateful to Ms. Dufalla for her generosity in contributing these beautiful pieces of Mount de Chantal history, which are so familiar to generations of Mount students,” said the Rev. James J. Fleming, executive vice president at Wheeling Jesuit University. “They truly will be highlights of the Sisters’ Gallery,” where the art will be displayed.
The painting, which is oil on tapestry, bears no signature. However, David Gardiner, a principal at Gardiner Hall Interiors who catalogued and priced the Mount objects, believes the painting dates to circa 1880 and likely was the work of one of the Visitation sisters at Mount de Chantal.
“In those days, a nun never signed her own work,” Gardiner said. “It was considered improper and lacking in humility.”
He categorizes it as religious folk art and said it is a “typical sentimental devotional piece of the period.”
The bust of Liszt graced the piano studio of teacher Addison Jones and later Bill Hines. Dufalla, who was very active in music performances while a Mount student, worked her way through many piano lessons under Liszt’s watchful eye and arrived at the auction with the sole purpose of capturing the bust.
“I found the bust of Liszt and bid on it,” Dufalla said. “Then, while looking at the other items, I saw the painting of St. Cecilia and loved it. I bid on it right away, and a few weeks later I found out that both items were mine.”
Recognizing that Wheeling Jesuit would make a “perfect home” for both pieces, Dufalla donated them to the university for display in the conservatory.
Named after the high school that stood for 143 years on property adjacent to the university, the conservatory will carry on the legacy of Mount de Chantal and the Visitation sisters who operated it since its beginning.
“We see this initiative as so important to the history and culture of the larger Wheeling community,” Fleming said. “It continues the legacy of Mount de Chantal and the dedicated sisters who educated thousands of women in Wheeling, it expands the music program at Wheeling Jesuit University, and it offers a new educational dimension for our students. For the community, it provides local residents and visitors with a cultural destination for music, drama, art and Wheeling history.”