‘Like looking at Heaven’: Connecticut heroes honored in Waterbury mural

New Haven

WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — The Basilica of The Immaculate Conception is one of Connecticut’s most beautiful churches. Now, a work of art on the ceiling of the Father Michael J McGivney Parlor next to the basilica is drawing high praise from people who stop by for a glance.

“It’s like looking at Heaven,” said Richard Payne, of Waterbury.

It’s so impressive, some have nicknamed it “The Sistine Chapel of Waterbury.”

“I knew it would have a beautiful reception,” said Father James Sullivan, Pastor of The Basilica of The Immaculate Conception. “I didn’t know that it would be called The Sistine Chapel of Waterbury.”

Father Sullivan said an artist came to him with the thought of painting something that would be respectful to Waterbury and its proud history.

He knew it had to include two Waterbury icons who are already immortalized with statues downtown: Father Michael McGivney and Father Thomas Conway.

Father McGivney is very well-loved throughout Connecticut and the globe. He started the Knights of Columbus — the largest Catholic charity in the world.

Father Conway was the Navy Chaplain aboard the USS Indianapolis — an American Navy ship torpedoed by the Japanese in World War II.

He is credited with swimming in shark-infested waters for nearly five days, trying to use his faith to comfort scared and injured sailors and to administer last rites to others. He was also able to rescue some U.S. sailors.

“We know 67 men came out of the water because of Father Conway,” said Robert Dorr, a Waterbury veteran who went to Washington, D.C., trying to get the Navy to award Father Conway the distinguished, Navy Cross.

“One of the survivors told me we are thankful for Father Conway’s service,” Dorr said. “We are thankful for his sacrifice.”

Mountaintop masses have been held atop Waterbury’s “HolyLand” in honor of Father McGivney. People there hoping Father McGivney could achieve sainthood status for his work creating the Knights of Columbus.

“One point eight million men throughout the world,” said Father Sullivan. “But all his work in New Haven, Waterbury, Thomaston, and beyond helping at the turn of the century and before that widows and orphans in need. He just had a passionate love for the poor.”

While both the Navy Cross and sainthood situations remain under consideration, it is clear that in Waterbury, the legacy of these two heroes will hang over the city — and on the ceiling — for a long time to come.

“We honor them and their legacy by having them on a ceiling for generations to see,” said Father Sullivan. “We are so thankful for their life and all the gifts and light they brought into the world.”

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