Several days after my arrival in Rome on January 6, I accompanied Fr Mark Haydu to the Patrons’ Office in the Vatican and after being greeted ceremoniously by both the Gendamerie and the Swiss Guards with their signature salute, I was taken to the top of a scaffolding in some obscure corner of the Apostolic Palace, and found myself face to face with a fresco by Giorgio Vasari – a name that I struggled to pull from the dusty archives of my memories of art history classes attended decades ago. As I listened to the explanation of the restoration process, I quickly formed a deep admiration for the men and women who dedicate themselves to this work, day in and day out here in the Vatican. Restoring a fresco seemed to me to be a bit like this: prepare the equivalent of a doctoral dissertation on the archival documentation relevant to the work to be restored; then prepare a scientific analysis of the present condition of the work, also roughly equivalent to a doctoral dissertation; then make painstaking decisions about how to proceed with the restoration, which materials to use, how to divide the work, etc; then carry out the restoration literally one centimeter at a time. It would be like cleaning my kitchen with a Q-tip. Thus began my first day in the office as the incoming International Director of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums.
The first thing I learned about the position was that I was surrounded and supported by extraordinary people. The staff in the Vatican Office: Sara, Romina, and Gabriella who are so well known and admired by our Patrons; as well as Chiara, Ami, and Leticia, our knowledgeable interns, guides and other collaborators who are of such invaluable service for the ongoing daily operations of our Patrons’ Office. Then there are Monsignor Terence Hogan and Lorna Richardson on the other side of the ocean, who put their hearts into everything related with the Patrons. The folks in the Museums are first-rate: from the restorers themselves, to the curators, to the administrator, scientific delegate and director. I have rarely met such knowledgeable and dedicated professionals. It struck me how grateful they all showed themselves toward the Patrons Office and the support that comes to the Museums from them. These people understand the importance of the patrimony of art and culture entrusted to their care. Hence they value accordingly the financial commitment of the patrons, who make so much of their task possible.
And of course there was Fr. Mark himself. On January 11th, I found myself looking forward to six months to shadow him and observe the day to day tasks of the position. I can only describe both his work and the many faceted and demanding duties of those who daily serve in the office as a non – stop whirlwind of activities. People kept asking me if had settled in; “settle” was definitely not the right metaphor. I had landed on a treadmill at top speed. I have to say it was rather exciting. We had trips to London, then to parts of the United States. We had visits from five of the chapters all in one month, two of them from Asia, making their first trip as a chapter. We had the inauguration of two major galleries and the launching of an exhibit curated by our office staff. Then there were the visits: everyone wanted to get a last encounter with Father Mark, and they wanted to meet me. I began to get nervous, because I could see how expert he had become in his nearly nine years with the Patrons. He held meetings, dealt with restoration projects, planned events, got things done in the Vatican (which is an art unto itself), presented new projects to potential donors, not to mention the ministerial activities in his free times to nourish his priestly heart. I knew I could never be him, and I wondered what expectations I was going to have to fill. But the wonderful people around me kept reminding me to “simply be myself.” Each one of us, they said, brings his or her own gift.
It has been an extremely intense six months. I have met so many wonderful people, and I look forward to meeting so many more. The Patrons themselves are all so dedicated to the cause of helping preserve the treasures of the Vatican Museums for generations to come. I marvel at their love for the arts and culture, and their desire for as many as possible to share in the experience. I am so grateful for them all.
I look forward to doing my own part to carry on the great tradition begun by the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums. I have learned that, as in every organization, effective communication is always a challenge, as is maintaining the clarity of vision and focus on the core mission needed to ensure a sustainable growth. I am greatly looking forward to working with the Chapter Leaders of the twenty-seven chapters spread throughout the world to continue the success of the Patrons. And I implore God’s blessing upon us and our loved ones. May our efforts to preserve the artistic patrimony of the Vatican be a beacon for understanding among cultures, and hence a real catalyst for peace and true progress for the human spirit.
Father Daniel Hennessy, L.C.